The Mysterious Origins Of The Harvey Wallbanger Cocktail

Tom Harvey had hit his breaking point. In the early 1950s, the surfer lost a major competition, so he trudged ashore to a bar in Manhattan Beach, California. A bartender named Donato "Duke" Antone made the surfer a unique drink — but after having one too many, the story goes, he started banging his head against a wall in frustration. 

Antone named the drink — vodka, orange juice, the Italian liqueur Galliano, which every home bar needs — in the surfer's honor: Harvey Wallbanger. Great story, but there's one problem with it. It's probably not true. Antone was indeed a mixology expert, but he made his career in Hartford, Connecticut — and people aren't sure if Tom Harvey existed at all.

So who actually is Harvey Wallbanger? The origin story of one of the most popular cocktails of the 1970s is also up for debate, but plausible theories have nothing to do with surfer dudes on the Pacific coast. The most likely origin of the Harvey Wallbanger cocktail — worth a try if you're getting tired of your old Moscow Mules — involves three men on the mid-Atlantic East Coast: George Bednar, Bill Young, and, indeed, Duke Antone.

How the Harvey Wallbanger could've resulted from a Galliano liqueur ad campaign

The Harvey Wallbanger isn't alone: Many creatively named cocktails have murky backgrounds. Legend says the original Rusty Nail was stirred with an actual rusty nail, and even the Cosmopolitan, which some bartenders consider to be one of the most impactful drinks of the modern era, has a hotly debated history.

But the Harvey Wallbanger is unique in that it could be the first consultant-created cocktail to take off. George Bednar was the marketing agent responsible for importing Galliano, a citrus-vanilla liqueur from Italy, and he was looking to boost sales. So as a business move, he hired Duke Antone as a mixology consultant to create a new drink with the ingredient, and he commissioned Bill Young, an illustrator, to draw a mascot.

Together, Bednar and Antone riffed off the Screwdriver — a cocktail with its own mysterious origins in the Middle East — by simply adding a splash of Galliano. Then, Young created a sandal-wearing character who was christened, well, Harvey Wallbanger.

Thanks to Bednar's aggressive advertising, the drink exploded in popularity and was added to the International Bartenders Association's list of official cocktails. And even though the mysterious drink was removed from the official list in 2020, bartenders continue to innovate with it — so its longevity is certainly not up for debate.