I’ve been reading a few books from the ’70s lately. Trust me: I’ve had time.
In the novel VALIS (which was published in ’81 but written in the ’70s), the character Horselover Fat (author Philip K. Dick’s alter ego) declares in his exegesis that time actually stopped in 70 CE. I’m pretty sure it actually stopped in 2020 CE. But since I am on a nerdy nostalgia trip at the moment, let’s talk about some drinks nobody orders anymore. Where to begin, where to begin …
I am an ’80s kid, born at the tail end of the ’70s—one of those Xennials, the forgotten subgeneration. So I wasn’t of drinking age when most of this stuff was in its heyday, but the bartenders who taught me always made sure I knew how to make these before I got a chance to talk to a guest. Let’s start with a drink I used to get orders for all the time, but haven’t made in a minute … the piña colada.
The piña colada, according to Simon Difford, was invented in Puerto Rico in 1952 at the Caribe Hotel by one of two bartenders. Or at the Barrachina Restaurant in 1963 by a different guy. If you’ve been reading this column long enough, you know how that goes. I’m not taking sides on this one. Difford says there was a drink from Cuba named the piña colada (“strained pineapple” in Spanish) much earlier on. The boys in San Juan added the new—at the time—Coco Lopez, and voila!
So, should you order one? Absolutely do not. Oh, I love this drink—it’s an absolute fave (and a virgin drink that doesn’t suck) if the bar (remember those?) knows how to make it right. You can certainly order it from a reputable craft/tiki establishment whose staff doesn’t give you a look when you request it. Maybe flirt a little, talk about how bad piña coladas are, and see if the bartender jumps in with: “That’s just because bars don’t make it right!” In that case, order away!
Otherwise, make it at home. It’s pretty simple: Mix pineapple juice (fresh is better), cream of coconut (Lopez is the classic; you can do better, though) and rum (something Puerto Rican, but with flavor—nothing with a bat or, for Pete’s sake, a pirate on the label). The proportions tend to be equal on the pineapple and coconut, and a little less rum than that. Your mileage and taste buds will vary. There is so much difference in the sweetness of canned juice versus fresh juice; the flavors of the various cream of coconut brands out there; and the intensity of the rum—so play around with it. Don’t have a blender? Shake and dump with some pellet ice from Sonic. Want a specific recipe? Sorry; that’s all you get from me on this one. But make it; don’t order it. Also, a confession: I like the chemically neon maraschino cherries in this, and only this, drink. Reminds me of being a kid drinking the virgin ones at the long-gone (and lamented) Aloha Lounge in the Boston suburbs. Your preferences will likely differ. Speaking of the ’70s, if you want to put da lime in da co-co-nut, go right ahead.
The rusty nail, which I covered in a recent column on midcentury drinks, is a mix of Scotch and Drambuie. The old guys used to make it 50/50 with something like a Johnny Walker Red or a Dewar’s. It’s no wonder nobody ever ordered it twice! I wondered why this was even a cocktail—until one time, after hours while working in a nightclub circa 2005, I tried it with Johnny Walker Green Label and less Drambuie. I was hooked. These days, I don’t hang with the big commercial blended Scotches, so something like Compass Box or Pig’s Nose would work great without breaking the bank. (Not sponsored, by the way.)
Should you order it? If you see the ingredients, yes. Even the greenest bartender who lied on his résumé can make this one if you tell him how. Try a 3:1 on the Scotch. Watch out: This could get expensive at a restaurant (remember those?) if you have a mercenary server who punches it into the POS with Macallan 18. Oops—you drank it, pal; tough turkey. You can make it at home with whatever the hell you want. No garnish, unless you have a nail handy for stirring.
The Harvey Wallbanger is the stuff of legends. I’ve probably made three of these in 15 years. I expected a comeback a few years ago from all of the people typing Harvey W. into the search engine, looking for info on the disgraced film producer, and saying, “What the bleep is a Harvey Wallbanger?” (I know that seems farfetched, but Corona beer sales are up, so … .) There is no shortage of stories out there, and I suggest you take a deep-dive into the history if you have a half-hour to kill. It was really popular in the ’70s; might have been invented in the ’50s; and was perhaps named after a surfer, or a surfing move, or a guy named Harvey banging his head on the wall while suffering from a hangover. Take your pick. Returning to Difford, the thing that put this cocktail on the map is marketing by George Bednar using a poster drawn by an artist named Bill Young. Commissioned by Galliano liqueur, it features a monk who looks like he’s parachuting into Woodstock or something. I want a print, for real. The drink is basically a screwdriver with a little Galliano on top.
Should you order it? Probably not, unless you want to get a funny look. I have always found the drink too vanilla-forward, but not terrible. There’s a reason for that: The Galliano of the ’70s was different—they made it sweeter, and with vanilla added. No wonder we only kept the stuff behind the bar as a self-defense weapon. (Seriously: My dad worked in Boston’s Combat Zone in the ’80s and taught me that one.) You can find the Galliano from the old days at better liquor stores, and you should make the drink at home. It’s 1 1/2 ounces of vodka (take your pick) in a tumbler with ice; top with fresh OJ and stir; then float about a half-ounce of the original Galliano, if you can track it down. It makes a good hangover remedy, actually. If you change the vodka to tequila, it becomes a Freddy Fudpucker. Yup.
Stay safe out there. And you know what? I think I might have to bring back the Harvey Wallbanger, made properly, when we have bars again—for all of you currently banging your heads on the wall, like me.