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Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen.
Downtown Reflections. Photograph by Brian Cohen. | Show Photo

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The Mad Men Tour of Pittsburgh

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Back in the 1960's, Pittsburgh could’ve easily stood in for the set of “Mad Men." While the city wasn’t the heart of the advertising industry, it was home to captains of industry from Gulf Oil to U.S. Steel and meetings in the high rises along Grant Avenue were followed by power lunches at the Duquesne Club and late-night rendezvous at the William Penn.  As the season five premiere of the hit TV series approaches, we ponder the possibilities for Don Draper, Roger Sterling and the “girls” in latter-day Pittsburgh.  It all starts with...
 
...cocktails!  While most of us aren’t sipping Canadian Club on the rocks at 10 a.m. like Don, you can order a perfectly-crafted cocktail at Andy’s in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel.  The cozy U-shaped bar sports clean lines and high stools and the sounds you hear in the background are from a jazz trio. A Manhattan is served in a martini glass while a brandy Alexander sports graceful glassware contoured to a lady’s hand. 
 
At the Renaissance Pittsburgh, arrive fashionably late for Whiskey Wednesdays at Braddock’s Bar then repair to one of two cozy nooks in the hotel lobby, each backed by a softly-lit, faux-croc, eggplant-colored banquette.  Can you say tête-à-tête?  The entire lobby is a Mad Men fantasy with its gold lamé chairs and a sparkling divan tailor-made for Joan Holloway.
 
A juicy steak lubricates conversation at The Capital Grille, where the wine lockers sport names like Lemieux and Piatt and the barmen are as discreet as they are charming.  Slide into a circular red leather banquette and admire the pastoral oils keeping company with trophies of deer and bison.  A cold shellfish platter segues to a Delmonico steak and fluffy cheesecake, and private rooms are available for more intimate conversation. 
 
A nightcap in the Terrace Room of the Omni William Penn is mandated to ogle the glamorous re-do of this classic room.  Impossibly hi-backed banquettes in shades of cranberry and chocolate make everyone look better and, yes, those massive chandeliers are winking at you.
 
Can’t make it home?  Neither could Don Draper.  Make your way instead to the Presidential Suite atop the Fairmont Hotel.  Timeless furnishings caress this decadent accommodation and while the coffee table may have graceful legs, the brown couch is all business.  A tufted headboard over the king bed would give Don an acid flashback, and the telescope pointing out the floor-to-ceiling windows channels your inner voyeur. 
 
Not to be outdone, the Renaissance Pittsburgh has a Presidential Suite of its own replete with Jacuzzi tub, mod furnishings and a wet bar and, yes, the bar can be stocked upon request.
 
Sterling Cooper’s clients would’ve felt right at home in the Gulf Tower and you will, too.  The building oozes period charm thanks to a marble lobby, brass-kissed elevator and Deco detail.  The building owners recently added a private billiard room off the lobby and if your name’s on the lease, you get a key to the liquor cabinet. 
 
That captain of industry, Henry Clay Frick, pasted his name on the eponymous Frick Building and the structure maintains its original Italian marble and brass accents nearly a century later.  Wish to be rich as you peek into Frick’s opulent steam shower, intact on the 19th floor.  All you need is a friend to open the door.
 
Betty Draper would’ve surely shopped at Kaufmann’s in the day and some of those frocks can be found at Eons, a vintage shop in Shadyside where many dresses from the 60s still bear the original tags.  Owner Richard Parsakian’s eye is in the details, which is why he stocks everything from Chanel-cut suits to button earrings, multi-strand pearls, daytime gloves and candy-colored hats.  (The stunning accessories you see in these photos are from his shop.)
 
A newer generation of designers is drawing inspiration from the period and Nordstrom in Ross carries a representative selection.  A cream-colored dress with a flowing, flower-fused skirt is the fancy of designer Tracy Reese, who has mastered the silhouette favored by Betty in her I-love-Don days.  Another Reese number carries a reptile print onto an organza dress.  Designer Trina Turk also favors a fitted bodice over flowing skirts while Alice + Olivia and Rachel Roy have gone Joanie slim (Roy’s creamy orange silhouette with a drape neck is sherbet on a stick).  Personal stylist Rose Hayes seamlessly matches the right dress with shoes and bag. 
 
Mad men have always had it easy at Brooks Brothers, where a 60s cut meant a shorter, tapered jacket, narrow lapels and a shorter pant.  The series’ designer, Janie Bryant, created a “Mad Men” suit a couple of years ago and while the suit quickly sold out, the store stocks narrow ties, cuff links and other accessories that evoke the vibe.
 
Who New? in Lawrenceville is a treasure trove of 60s furniture and home accessories and co-owner Jeff Gordon acknowledges that most of his finds come from within a 50-mile radius of Pittsburgh (who knew?).  Dorothy Thorpe designs include glassware and Lucite lamps and the swan chairs by Arne Jacobsen will brighten up any room.  Vintage bar ware and cocktail shakers are more big sellers.  Find the ideal couch at Perlora in the Strip District, where a 110-inch-long brown couch with rows of covered buttons pairs beautifully with equally-angular leather chairs.
 
What are you waiting for, Pittsburgh?  It’s a Mad world!
 
New Girl In Town Elaine Labalme says let’s party like it’s 1965. Thanks to our "models":  Louanne Baily, Vice Chair of the Board, Planned Parenthood of W. Pa.; Heather Sage, Vice President, PennFuture; Gregg Behr, Executive Director, Grable Foundation; Matthew Sterne, General Manager, Fairmont Pittsburgh Hotel.

Photo shoot styled by Richard Parsakian, Eons Fashion Antique.

Photographs copyright Brian Cohen
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