If you know where to go uptown, you can get totally shit-faced for a mere $10. I’m not talking about happy hour at any of the many excellent bars, pubs and lounges of the neighborhood. No, I am talking about the elusive and enigmatic elixir known to the locals as the NUTCRACKER. This is the story of this storied concoction. Many fights have started, many babies have been made and plenty of people have gotten completely and utterly twisted – all because of this mysterious libation. This column will not only reveal the ingredients of the drink but also tell the tale of one the first people to bring this potent potion to the streets of Washington Heights and beyond.
The first time I tried a Nutcracker was back in the year 2000 when my barber, who will be referred to as Fatyul (pronounced fa tuile) to avoid any legal ramifications, offered me one as she cut my hair. Ever the entrepreneur, Fatyul decided to sell the mixed drinks on the side after noticing how well they sold at the Flor de Mayo restaurant on 101st street and Broadway. After obtaining the recipe she began to sell them out of a cooler she kept next to her barber chair. For a paltry 10 bucks you received a heaping 32 ounces of alcohol laced goodness in a large plastic soup container. My haircut that day took longer than usual because almost every other minute someone was stopping in to buy more of her modern day moonshine. I couldn’t care less though as I was mid way through my Nutcracker and I was feeling euphoric. I ended up having 2 more Nutcrackers and needless to say I wound up whispering sweet nothings to the toilet bowl later on that night.
Fatyul’s operation expanded exponentially from that point. Proceeds from the sale of Nutcrackers paid for the deposit on a new apartment as well as the deposit on a basement apartment she used for the sole purpose of selling the mixed drinks. Not to mention providing the seed money to open up her very own barbershop. At its height, the enterprise employed a total of 6 people. Not only was she selling Nutcrackers retail to folks in the street who sometimes purchased 15 of them at a pop but she was also selling Nutcrackers wholesale, charging $400 dollars for a 5 gallon bucket. She opened up another Nutcracker spot in the 170’s and was moving five 5 gallon buckets a day – nearly 10 buckets on Saturdays and Sundays. People came from as far as Providence, Rhode Island to purchase her Nutcrackers.
And then everything started to unravel; others folks started to sell their own version of the drink and some of her workers started scheming and pocketing some of the proceeds. The coup de grace came when the cops raided the basement apartment. Luckily, she did not have her name on the lease and the cops didn’t really pursue the case as it was not hard drugs. Not wanting to jeopardize her immigration status, Fatyul walked away from the industry that she created. She didn’t leave empty handed though, she walked away with a cool 35 grand.
Nowadays, if you know where to look you can still purchase a Nutcracker for 10 bucks almost anywhere in Washington Heights. One dude in the Dyckman area even had them bottled up with a label and sold them out of the back of a van. Another cat I know actually has a store that sells a frozen derivative of the Nutcracker comically named the Nemo. The story of the Nutcracker embodies the never surrender spirit which is an integral part of the character of Dominicans in particular and immigrants in general. So the next time you have a Nutcracker make sure you say a toast to Fatyul and the legacy she left behind. Salud!!!
Check out the story that started it all: The Nutcracker
Read the awesome story by Michael Feeney of the NY Daily News on our film: The modern-day moonshine of upper Manhattan