Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hidden History of the Harvey Wallbanger

First of all, I should say that I never intended to uncover the history of the Harvey Wallbanger. The journey by which I became obsessed with discovering the origins of the popular 1970s cocktail began when, in last 2010, an editor at The Daily, the now-defunct tablet newspaper, contacted me and asked if I had any "interesting" angles on cocktail stories. I thought for a bit and said I had always been curious about the little-known 1950s-1960s bartender Donato "Duke" Antone. If you believed what you read, he was the author of the Harvey Wallbanger, the Rusty Nail, the White Russian and many more. Yet, no one really knew anything about him. And now (at least at that time, a year and a half ago), the Wallbanger was beginning to enjoy a rebirth. Why not profile Antone? They bit.

So I started my research and soon learned that—beyond the Harvey Wallbanger's Wikipedia page—there wasn't much out there about Antone. I quizzed several knowledgable bartenders. They said they assumed Antone invented the drink in the 1950s, but admitted they didn't know much beyond that. I then contacted the people at Galliano. They were interested in Antone as well, but, amazingly, had no records regarding the history of their liqueur's greatest claim to fame. I began to suspect that I was on a wild goose chase, that Antone was yet another cocktail myth cooked up a bar somewhere in the misty past and given the weight of truth through constant retelling.

Then I happened upon an obituary of the man, published in the Hartford Courant. This proved Antone had lived. It led to several other articles in the Courant. Soon the trail grew hot and I began to piece together a history, both of the bartender and the drink. My article was no longer about Antone, however. I was determined to get to the bottom of the Harvey Wallbanger story. And—with a graceful assist late in the game from David Wondrich (who had begun digging into the Wallbanger story in summer 2011)—I think I have.

There was a problem about getting the story out there, however. By the time I had my copy ready for publication, in late February 2011, The Daily was having problems. My editor hemmed and hawed but finally cut me loose, saying they didn't have the money for the piece. (The Daily ceased publication on Dec. 15.) I turned to a well-respected, historic food magazine, whose print version ended a few years ago but which lives on as an on-line presence. I had enjoyed the depth and breadth of its articles in the past. They happily seized on the article and sent me a contract—and then sat of the piece for ten months. My original editor left. Another one came in, edited the story with me, and then left as well. Finally, a third editor casually informed me that the article would not run due to "space limitations." (On-line publications do realizes they are afforded infinite space, don't they?)

Again, I scramble to find Harvey a home. To my lasting gratitude, the fine folks as Saveur gladly took it on and published it Dec. 14. You can read the article here. However, it is in a slight truncated form. If you want to get the whole story, here is the copy in its unabridged form: