Say Hello (Again) to Harvey Wallbanger

Photo by Eiliv Sonas Aceron / Unsplash

As disco drinks go, the Harvey Wallbanger has had a longer shelf life than most. It even has its own day, celebrated this year on Sunday.

At heart, it’s a simple drink. Essentially, it’s a Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) with Galliano, a bright yellow, vanilla-tinged Italian liqueur, which is floated on top. But its saucy name and a goofy little cartoon character made it famous in the 1970s.

Where did Harvey come from? According to one colorful tale, the drink is named for Tom Harvey, a surfer from Manhattan Beach, California. Supposedly, after too many bad days on the waves, Harvey consoled himself with so many Galliano-spiked screwdrivers that he staggered into the walls.

Yeah, we don’t really believe that story either.

A more plausible theory: It was created by Donato “Duke” Antone, a bartender who ran Duke’s “Blackwatch” Bar on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood in the 1950s.

Cocktail writer Robert Simonson, who has researched and given numerous presentations about the Harvey Wallbanger, says that a drink with the right ingredients (vodka, OJ, Galliano) was served at the Blackwatch, possibly called Duke’s Screwdriver.

But the Wallbanger name—and legend—came years later, Simonson says, mostly likely as the brainchild of George Bednar, the former marketing director of McKesson Imports, which imported Galliano liqueur.

In 1969, Galliano introduced a cartoony surfer mascot named Harvey Wallbanger to help market the drink. T-shirts, pins and other memorabilia featured his goofy catchphrase: “My name is Harvey, and I can be made.”

Harvey was even a write-in candidate in the 1972 presidential election. Thanks to that silly campaign, sales of Galliano tripled, and the Harvey Wallbanger became a sensation.

It was a hip drink during the swinging ’70s, and a staple even into the ‘90s. But when the new millennium rolled in, bringing with it the speakeasy-style cocktail revolution, the super-sweet Wallbanger faded. It seemed like Harvey had finally hit the wall for good, destined for cocktail obscurity.

But in 2010, Galliano re-launched with a new, more herbaceous recipe that was closer to its original 1890s recipe. Bartenders began to experiment with the sunny yellow liqueur again, including updated riffs on the once-maligned Harvey Wallbanger.

Consider, for example, the “Hardly Wallbanger” (recipe below), served at Sycamore Den, a ’70s-styled bar in San Diego. Although the main components of the original drink remain (vodka, OJ, Galliano), partner and bartender Eric Johnson “brightened it,” building it tall with lemon juice, vanilla extract and a splash of bubbly soda water.

“The name is one that people remember, but they don’t really know what the drink is, so they are curious to try it,” Johnson says. “Once they taste it, it’s really easy drinking.”

Original: The Harvey Wallbanger

1½ ounces vodka
4 ounces orange juice
½ ounce Galliano

In a rocks glass filled with ice, add vodka and orange juice. Stir to combine. Float Galliano on top, and stir.

*Note:  To “float” Galliano or any other a liquid on top of a drink, hold a spoon over the drink, and gently pour the liquid over the rounded back of the spoon. It should cascade over the rounded spoon and float on top of the drink.

Updated: The Hardly Wallbanger

Recipe courtesy Eric Johnson, Sycamore Den, San Diego

1½ ounces vodka
1 ounce Galliano
2 ounces fresh orange juice
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
¼ ounce simple syrup*
2 dashes vanilla extract
Soda water, to top
Orange wheel and cherry, for garnish

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine all ingredients except soda water. Shake well. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice, and top with soda. Garnish with the orange wheel and cherry.

*To make simple syrup, combine equal parts sugar and water. Bring to boil in small saucepan until sugar is dissolved and syrup is clear. 

Published on November 6, 2015
Topics: Cocktail RecipesSpirits Trends