This cocktail is a New York City summertime staple, albeit an illegal one.
Anyone who has spent time on one of New York City’s many public beaches is familiar with the incessant call of “Nutcracker! Nutcracker!” It’s as ubiquitous a sound as the squawking of the seagulls or the jingle of a Mister Softee truck. Discreetly flag down a Nutcracker vendor and, for about $10, you’ll be handed a sweet mix of liquor, juice, and who knows what else. Some come frozen, like a strong slushie, while others are more like boozy fruit punch. Nutcrackers are, after all, generally homemade and each recipe is unique to the person mixing it. Think of them as a beach-ready cousin of bathtub gin.
Nutcrackers, though distinctly a summertime drink, get their name from a frostier piece of New York City iconography: The Radio City Christmas Spectacular. As the story goes, the manager of Flor de Mayo, a Peruvian-Chinese restaurant on the Upper West Side, was looking for for a name for his new cocktail when a TV commercial for the stage show came on screen. “Nutcracker” seemed like a perfect description for the eye-crossing effects of the strong, sweet concoction.
What originally made Flor de Mayo’s Nutcrackers appealing was the fact that the restaurant sold them to-go, a down-low summer treat in a city where drinking on the street can come with a fine. Soon, the cocktails migrated across the boroughs, reaching up into Harlem and Washington Heights, and down onto the beaches of Coney Island and Rockaway.