When Nude Magazines Met Booze: A Love Story

Since the dawn of porn magazines in America, booze and nudity have been presented as the most amicable combination of vice-on-vice. Rachel Barth surveys the intersection of the two from Cocktail's breasts to Playboy's bunnies.

Nudie magazines are as familiar to American liquor stores as the Twinkie—piled along store racks, shielded nip-down, with sultry gazes and bare shoulders peaking out atop, begging for a buy. It’s not a stretch that porn and liquor would be found side-by-side both on shelves and under covers. But how did these industries become so essential to one another? And how did vice mount vice to compose an image that actually lessened the total smut-factor, selling both a classy lifestyle and a lewd one at the same time?

In the 1920s, a series of cheap, erotic comics called the “Tijuana Bibles” were sold in the U.S. The booklets animated naked women into provocative scenarios, an inexpensive distraction from a poverty-ridden era. They also, at times, playfully comingled the lusty depravities of ladies and liquor. In “Miss Annibelle in ‘Drink Up,’” cocktails were used to symbolize sexual positions (the “Old Fashioned” was missionary). These comics, printed off the same printers that produced labels for whiskey bottles, helped lift spirits by mixing them with women.

In 1953, when Hugh Hefner debuted the first issue of Playboy, alcohol advertisements and drink coverage immediately became popular fare within the magazine’s pages, subtly marketing drink (cocktails, specifically) as one key to attaining status. Hugh Hefner not only placed liquor beside nude women, he branded the two together, selling liquor as an ingredient to that desirable Hugh Hefner lifestyle: money, Martinis, naked girls, cigars.

But in 1958, science fiction illustrator turned pornographer, Milton Luros, forever joined the two when he launched the first nudie magazine—the aptly-named Cocktail—to specifically target liquor stores.

Playboy did the whole bachelor lifestyle with the sophisticated Martini, the stereo, fine wines, but Milton addressed [a synergy between nudie mags and alcohol] more specifically when he aimed his magazines at liquor stores,” said Vintage Sleaze blogger and author of the upcoming book Times Square Smut, Jim Linderman.

The alcohol-themed glossy magazines presented cocktail recipes, cocktail jokes and of course, cocktail-clinking ladies—voluptuous, topless and roughly three-sheets to the wind. Drink, however, played second fiddle to the real buzz of the era: breasts, which replaced those hot-ticket legs of the 1940s pinups. Following Cocktail, Luros released a number of booze-and-boob spin-offs, dubbed “liquor slicks,” including Cordial, Champagne, Highball and Nightcap, all under his publishing company, Parliament News.

The message was consistent: Women are drawn to men who drink. It makes sense, then, that the king of lifestyle branding, Hugh Hefner, left a job at Esquire—which had been taking a similar approach selling men’s fashion with both ads and magazine content— before launching his own porn empire with Playboy. Hef made liquor essential to a den of play, and to his branded man.

The liberal ‘60s Supreme Court under President Lyndon B. Johnson allowed the taboo publications to exist mostly unregulated. Luros took note. While other adult magazines mostly sold in niche bookstores and on newsstands, Luros used his pulp connections to target the nuclear man, just on his way home after a long day’s work, stopping to fill his flask at the liquor store.

“Porn has historically been a man’s medium, same with liquor. There’s this association with masculinity and drinking, and masculinity and liquor,” says Matthew Kirschenbaum, Haas Scholar of Pornography at UC Berkeley. “In the ’30s to late ’60s, men were the majority going into liquor stores, and liquor stores were likely seen as a gentlemen’s space where men could be open about sexually illicit things together.”

And though Cocktail and its boozy brethren sold mostly in male domains, in their attempt to sell the concept of woman-as-drinker, they eventually fizzled. Meanwhile, Playboy, which marketed man-as-drinker, maintained a lasting shelf life.

What ultimately leveled Luros—who at one point earned the nickname of “World’s Richest Pornographer”—was his venture beyond boozy nudies, into nudist “lifestyle” magazines. Luros sullied the typical naturist magazine’s purer pictorials, dropping the nudists into much more pornographic situations than their regular barbecues and volleyball games. After an obscenity-minded Supreme Court took control under President Nixon—and after borrowing money from the wrong mob-men—Luros was forced to leave porn.

While Luros turned lifestyle publications into porn, Hugh Hefner turned porn into a lifestyle publication—one that used alcohol to anchor a desirable masculine construct. Thus, Playboy became resilient, and eventually moved beyond being just a lifestyle publication; it became, simply, a lifestyle.

Hefner opened the first Playboy Club in Chicago in 1960 and, shortly after, bunny bars began reproducing around the world. In 1961, Playboy published The Playboy Gourmet, a cookbook that featured recipes from the magazine’s food and drinks editor Thomas Mario, with chapters like “The Beauties of the Bubbly: Champagne—The Effervescent Emblem of Liquid Luxury” and “The Brimming Bowl: Thy Punch Cup Runneth Over.” In the 1970s, Hefner bought the Playboy mansion, hosting parties with bouncy bunny waitresses holding cocktail trays.

Within the magazine, Hefner sold the concept subliminally. A 1962 ad in Playboy for Fleischmann’s Preferred Blended Whiskey shows a man turning a pretty lady’s head, holding a bottle of “BIG” whiskey, not so subtly inferring liquor’s ability to make a man large in all arenas. A Noilly Prat Vermouth ad that also appeared in Playboy in 1962, sells the mixer as a “civilized cocktail” linking cocktails and class, to enhance a man’s appeal.

The message was consistent: Women are drawn to men who drink. It makes sense, then, that the king of lifestyle branding, Hugh Hefner, left a job at Esquire—which had been taking a similar approach selling men’s fashion with both ads and magazine content— before launching his own porn empire with Playboy. Hef made liquor essential to a den of play, and to his branded man.

In the 1980s, though Playboy persevered, the peripheral porn marketplace saw the easy association of booze and boobs grow caricature-like, to the point where it landed another porn mogul, Larry Flynt, at the center of a Supreme Court case. One issue of Flynt’s Hustler magazine—which took nakedness (and the drink advertising beside it) to a more hardcore and fetishistic place—printed a mock Campari ad that insinuated conservative Minster Jerry Falwell lost his virginity to his mom. Falwell sued Flynt for the boozy jest, but Flynt won, affirming the freedom to publish and speak about public figures, even if inflicting emotional distress. Ditching the Playboy classy male association, Hustler was treading dangerous lines, but the long-standing synergy of boobs and booze still won out.

The 1980s brought the advent of another invention, the home camcorder, which took pornographic video to a more democratic space, and sent erotica dipping towards, well, ‘80s flare (NSFW). Pictorials grew even more graphic, and porn continued to churn out alcohol sub-content, but not without backlash. Conservative groups campaigned against pornographic magazines, arguing that the hardcore images encouraged violence against women—a societal shift from critiquing erotica for its moral foibles, to its public safety ones. In 1986, 7-Eleven stores even temporarily banned the sales of nudie magazines, citing the growing societal concern over a link between porn and crime.

Despite bumps in the road, the connection between booze and erotica—from blatant displays like Dita von Teese performing burlesque in an over-sized martini glass at the Playboy mansion, to subtle ones, like the Playboy.com video series “Uncovered presented by Southern Comfort”—lives on. Penthouse has a drinks blog called “The Pour House,” and Playboy releases frequent Bartender’s Guides, while both nudie magazines and men’s magazines like Maxim, Complex and Esquire have cocktail and spirits editors to place booze content beside barely clad ladies.

In 2012, a German liquor firm called G-Spirits even sold its alcohol by claiming its barrel-aged whiskey had been splashed on the bosom of Hungary’s Playboy Playmate of the Year. That year, Playboy also teamed with Barclay’s Wine to create a Playboy Wine Club. In 2013, they announced the launch of Playboy Premium Vodka abroad.

And, clearly, the ladies and liquor combo has moved further beyond the confines of men’s magazines. Dayton, Ohio recently saw the launch of the first strip club microbrewery in America. And a man in Toronto launched a comedy film festival, simply called “Hard Liquor and Porn,” taking a jab at the flagrant association, and also encouraging attendees to dress as porn stars for fun.

From the defunct Cocktail to the still-flowing Playboy and its peers, liquor and naked ladies are indelibly linked. It’s funny, though, to think what might have happened to the Playboy brand—and the men’s magazine and booze association—if Hugh Hefner had named the magazine his first pick, Stag Party, a title that got the nix for copyright reasons. Perhaps Hefner would have spotlighted shots instead of Martinis beside his nude models, or inversely, changed stag parties into classier affairs, with men celebrating singlehood by sipping Martinis in smokers’ jackets. Or maybe, instead, Playboy and some of its booze capitalizing companions, would have gone the way of the rest of yesteryear’s liquor slicks: down the hatch.

Rachel Barth is a writer and filmmaker from San Francisco, California. Her work has appeared on CNN, VICE News, Draft Magazine, Drink Me and more. She's a graduate from UC Berkeley's Mass Communications and Creative Writing programs, and a former fellow with the International Center for Journalists. When she's not busy being professional, she can be found in dark basements performing stand up comedy, being very unprofessional.