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What originally made Flor de Mayo’s Nutcrackers appealing was the fact that the restaurant sold them to-go, a down-low summer treat in a city where drinking on the street can come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.