Published August 23, 2013
Remember that drink the Harvey Wallbanger?
A mix of vodka, orange juice and Galliano, it was a popular cocktail in the late 1960s and early 1970s when sweet, neon-hued drinks made their way into the collective population.
While today the Harvey Wallbanger may seem baffling to our cool, modern day spirited sensibilities, there were reasons behind the rise of the Bangers --along with its sweet counterparts like the Velvet Peanuts, Pink Flamingos, and Tequila Sunrises of post-World War II America. But according to drink historians, it helped bring about a dark age of cocktails that led to the near demise of the craft.
But first up, you might be asking: What exactly is a Harvey Wallbanger? According to the folks at Galliano, the Italian liqueur responsible for the drink’s hint of a neon-yellow glow, it is six parts orange juice, three parts vodka, lots of ice, and a splash of Galliano.
Its origins, like the drink, are not exactly clear. Legend has it that a 1950s California surfer favored the drink and, one day after losing a pivotal surfing contest, walked into his usual Manhattan Beach watering hole, ordered his drink, and banged his head against the wall from the agony of defeat. His name was Harvey – and there you have it.
Drink historian Dave Wondrich and tiki cocktail expert Jeff Berry, speaking at the Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans last month, said the popularity of the Harvey Wallbanger is the result of the feminist movement and the advent of the fern bar.
In the early 1970s women began to frequent fern bars -- watering holes decorated in a welcoming combination of greenery and wood panel interiors that wouldn't intimidate solo-drinkers like the standard shot-beer-cigar pubs. Berry points out that these bars were the precursor to the Houlihans and TGI Fridays of today, and specialized in sweet drink combinations that saved time and money.
Wondrich said adding to lure of the Harvey Wallbanger was some crafty marketing. Galliano was hot to get into the American market and ad man named Bill Young came up with a goofy cartoon character to represent Harvey as its official national mascot of sorts, touting the funny phrase: “My name is Harvey, and I can be made.”
Add to this the post-Prohibition loss of professional bartenders and a truncation of spirits imports, and the craft of cocktail making was set adrift for years.
There were other drinks that contributed to the so-called dark ages of mixology -- The Rum Runner (banana liqueur, blackberry brandy, grenadine, 151 rum, and key lime juice); the Swamp Water (a mason jar filled with crushed ice and topped with green Chartreuse and pineapple juice); the Kim (Galliano, triple sec, brandy, and sugar).
Wondrich and Berry exhumed them all.
Next time you order a perfect martini, give your bartender an extra big tip and thank your lucky surfers that the Harveys of the world have seemingly been safely lost at sea, because it was only a scant 30 years ago that you may have walked your platform shoes into a fern bar, ordered a Harvey Wallbanger and asked somebody what their sign was.