Bringing back a Classic: The Harvey Wallbanger

by | Jul 5, 2021 | Articles, History of Drinks

3 parts Vodka stirred with 6 parts fresh orange juice, topped with 1 part Galliano. Tom Wolffe called it the ‘Me’ decade that saw the Soviet Union invade Afghanistan, the Iranian revolution, the election of Britain’s first female Prime Minister, and an oil crisis which propelled the western economic paradigm away from Keynesianism into the arms of neoliberal economic theory. We call it the Harvey Wallbanger; the 1970s in a highball glass, garnished with a slice of orange and maraschino cherry. Offspring of the classic screwdriver and Galliano liqueur which was created in 1896 by Arutro Vaccari in Livorno, and owner of as many origin stories as it has ingredients, the Harvey Wallbanger is a vanilla-tinged hit of sweet refreshment that is all too easy to smuggle onto a breakfast table.    

Harvey Wallbanger: The Rise

Veteran journalist Robert Simonson has done the hard work here, successfully following his nose to Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut where a man called Donato ‘Duke’ Antone was reported to be teaching a mixology course in 1977. Antone was described in an advert for the class as ‘the creator of the Harvey Wallbanger, and more than 50 nationally consumed drinks.’ So Antone is our man and that is not up for debate, but the circumstances under which he created the Harvey Wallbanger certainly are.

On the one hand it is said that Antone created the Harvey Wallbanger a full 20 years before its heyday, in 1952 behind the Blackwatch Bar on Manhattan Beach in Los Angeles. The titular Harvey in this retelling being surfing legend Tom Harvey who liked his screwdrivers with a splash of Galliano and celebrated his victory in a surfing competition one night with a bar crawl that included both himself and his surfboard banging against every wall in sight on the way home.  

However, a competing story claims that a few beaches down the Los Angeles coastline in Newport, a man named Bill Donner hosted a house party where he plied a reveller called Harvey with the cocktail. Harvey was discovered the following morning banging his head against a wall incessantly whilst in the vice like grip of an apocalyptic hangover. At From Our Cellar we would like to formally brand this as hearsay due to the high volume of nutritious and hydrating orange juice in a Harvey Wallbanger, and the fact that if you are throwing house parties on the Newport beach front your vodka of choice is probably going to be upmarket enough to not instigate university-grade crapulence.

The third, and most likely, explanation of the Harvey Wallbanger’s origin is a far more commercial affair. Simonson has joined the dots and theorised that Donato Antone created the drink while working for the marketing department of McKesson Imports in the late 1960s which at the time were the chosen US importers of Galliano. In order to shift units, the head of that department, George Bednar, instructed Antone to create a cocktail in which Galliano was a key ingredient. Once the Harvey Wallbanger had been devised, Bednar commissioned an artist named Bill Young to create a deck of marketing posters featuring the character Harvey Wallbanger through which Galliano could be mass marketed. Bednar is also assumed to have written the popular tagline ‘Harvey Wallbanger is the name, and I can be made’.

Harvey Wallbanger: The Fall

That marketing campaign drove the Harvey Wallbanger to meteoric commercial success in the early 70s, but it began to decline after being overshadowed by the emergence of its mass-produced successor the ‘Club Wallbanger’ in 1973. The Club Wallbanger was a canned version of the cocktail created in partnership with Smirnoff that was a hit in discos throughout the United States for its ability to energise and inebriate in equal measure, but its lower quality ingredients and over-abundance ultimately lowered the status of the Wallbanger brand. A serious effort was made to separate the original Harvey Wallbanger from the Club Wallbanger through a marketing drive that re-targeted the Harvey Wallbanger at the upper market by rebranding it as a ‘gold-plated screwdriver’ and swapping out the colourful cartoon character for a sun-kissed couple affluently smouldering at one another. Regardless, the Harvey Wallbanger’s popularity continued to decline throughout the remainder of the decade as drinkers sought alternatives due to a perceived decline in quality as the Club Wallbanger became the most readily available variant of the cocktail whilst being made with pasteurised orange juice instead of fresh, and frequently being drunk lukewarm out of a can instead of chilled out of a glass.

Harvey Wallbanger: A New Beginning

So that about sums up the origins of the Harvey Wallbanger, a sweet, refreshing highball glass of the 70s, as good in the morning as it is at night and easy to make into the bargain. As Andy Warhol philosophised in 1975; ‘They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself’, we at From Our Cellar could not agree more and encourage you to arm yourself with 3 parts Vodka, 1 part Galliano and 6 parts fresh orange juice and join the fight to bring back the Harvey Wallbanger – you know the name, and he can be made!