By Amy Phillips Penn

Jackie Kennedy said it: “I don’t think that there are any men who are faithful to their wives.”

Enter the three-martini lunch and the birth of the “Master of the Universe,” who may have slurred his way through his filet mignon, but inked envious business deals, and womanized (or implied that he did). At the office, he would dictate a few lines to his secretary before giving her a “good girl” pat on the derriere.

“On Wall Street he and a few others – how many? – three hundred, four hundred, five hundred? – had become precisely that … Masters of the Universe.” Thank you, Tom Wolfe.

Drinking your lunch in the 70s and 80s was an ego quencher you could expense. Remember expense accounts? Why not make millions in cozy settings? It’s so much sexier than making cold calls. Life’s tough, so drink up.

The once-upon-an-olive macho lingo of booze oozed power. A “good drinker” was a compliment, a notch on the machismo of cigar smokin’ lips.

In a campaign duel, Jimmy Carter condemned these lunches as “the working-class subsidizing a $50 lunch.”

Carter’s opponent, Gerald Ford, countered with “the three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snoot full at the same time?”


George Carlin chimed in with, “it should not affect the working man’s two joint lunch.”

Good to know.

Everyone’s a comedian for 15 minutes, especially when they’re feeling toasted, smashed, sauced, or hammered, in the language of the liquor loving.

It was a time of assumptions, images, language and mores merging and revolving.

Ladies still daintily went to “powder their noses,” in the bathroom, often in pairs, for a quick gossip fix or a fix of another kind.

Martinis make for imaginative lips. Innocence was often assumed to be sordid, and rumors flew.

Lunching with my aunt at the Sherry Netherlands way back when, a man we knew walked in with a woman who was definitely not his wife.

“Oh, poor Jane. George is having an affair. I hope no one tells her. He has a beautiful wife, why does he need more?” my aunt swooned in a pseudo-ladylike, though not inaudible, tone. This was hardly a unique reaction from someone of her generation. Did she pause to consider that George’s companion might be family, a friend, or a business associate? No. The notion of the other woman was much more fun.

The three martini lunch roared on.

Be it at  21 Club or the Carlyle, it often wobbled its way upstairs.

One well-known bachelor kept an “in-between divorces” suite at the Carlyle. He opened his elite-loving door wearing a strand of poppers, or “amyl nitrates” to the more clinical among us.

Hotels with restaurants were would-be beards for a 3-M lunch gone sexy. The crowd consisted of editors with young wanna-be writers, married men seeking something extra, and those who soaked it all in, bubbles and all.

Bottoms up.

Will the three-martini lunch make a comeback? The concept of fitness for duty and a modern, precautionary view on liquor intake have certainly intervened.

Perhaps the olives, the gin, the vermouth, the twist of lemon and the shape of the glass will perform an encore at some point, then take a bow.

As to the times? Unfortunately, no beverage can bring them back. Cheers!

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