The history of the nutcracker, the NYC drink, travels a long and winding, shadowy, road. According to Grub Street, it’s said to have been invented by a drug dealer one night in the early 1990s at the bar of a Chino-Latino restaurant on the Upper East Side called Flor de Mayo. It was super sweet, tart, potent, and named for an ballet ad that popped up on the TV.
Within a few years, it had morphed into a general name for any sweet, boozy beverage peddled illegally on the street, in bodegas and barber shops, and eventually, in slushie form, on the beach. Along the way, arrests, Dominican kingpins, a documentary, and a rap song were made, all in the name of this underground drink. It was and still remains a hustle business.
This drink comes with a warning—you never really know what goes into those candy-colored frozen beverages. Outside of the bar in which they originated, nutcrackers are always going to be homemade hooch, peddled in plastic bottles. But more businesses are going legit these days, starting Instagram accounts for easy ordering, obtaining LLCs, and using nutcrackers as an entrepreneurial launchpad. Stick to trusted vendors, and you’ll be in good hands.
Where: Hang out on Rockaway Beach in Queens long enough in the summer (which is to say, not very long at all) and you’ll likely hear at least one mobile vendor with a cooler calling out about nutcrackers. We usually ignored such calls, until the day we ran into a guy working for the Beachtender, which claims to be one of few official nutcrackers vendors with an LLC. The Beachtender himself is Anthony Robinson, but he does have a few other guys roaming around, working for him.
The gentleman we met (pictured here on the Beachtender’s feed) explained that they use real fruits and vegetables in their drinks, and he demonstrated this by taking every flavor out and showing us the visible seeds. This is a far cry from the corn syrup and artificial flavors we had come to associate with the reputation of this drink. He easily convinced us, and we weren’t disappointed.
When: Best enjoyed in the summer, of course, but if it’s warm on an off-season day, the Beachtender will be out on the sands. Check the Instagram account for updates.
Order: Whichever of the icy, jewel-toned, seed-studded cocktails interests you! On this day, the Beachtender had passionfruit with Hennessy, a mudslide made with mushrooms, strawberry lemonade vodka, peach-mango Maker’s Mark, watermelon tequila, rum punch—we tried the latter two, and they were delicious and refreshing. At $10 a pop, they’re like an all-day happy hour on the beach.
Alternatively: Now with three uptown locations (including the original at 2651 Broadway, map), Flor de Mayo still serves the OG Nutcracker, made with Don Q 151 rum, Southern Comfort, and Disaronno ($14). You can make it a “super nutcracker” by adding a shot of Myer’s Dark Rum for an extra $2.