New York is a nutcracker town: top top Rockaway Beach, sunbathing young professionals flag under glistening guys hauling cooler bags. Middle-aged Dominicans crowd pushcarts throughout all-night next in the park. Distinctively squat plastic bottles litter the highways after the Puerto Rican job Parade in June, the West Indian job Parade in September, and also every festival in between. ~ above trains, salesmen pull suitcases full of ice and work the commuters.

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“Wednesday night, obtain your head right,” lock shout. “Why settle for a beer when the nutcracker’s here?”

The candy-colored drinks room such a staple of summer in the city that “nutcracker” has end up being an umbrella ax for any kind of sweet, boozy drink that’s marketed illegally ~ above the street, out of barber shops or bodegas, and, increasingly, online. Instagram teems through dozens the sellers, with handles favor thenutcracker_jacker, nutcrackers_nemos, and kerbyscups, each offering cost-free delivery and video testimonials: “This shit is fire!” claims a devotee the brooklyn_nutcrackers. That takes a swig as the cameraman renders the rat-a-tat noise that a maker gun.

Across the city, nutcrackers and also $10 bills readjust hands openly and also freely, and also it can make girlfriend wonder: where did nutcrackers come from, and who earns the real money? If the cops and the prohibitionists have lost, that won?

The answer lie uptown, in Washington Heights, in ~ Manhattan’s northern tip. Freddy Tejada rubs shoulders v hip-hop royalty and also is locally well-known as Freddy Imperial. He’s a 48-year-old Dominican-American entrepreneur who leveled up, a convicted armed robber functioning in a barbershop that experienced an obscure drink and made that a viral sensation.

“Freddy imperial was may be to take it and also run with it,” states Leo Fuentes, a writer and also Washington Heights native who goes by Led Black. That made the unreleased documentary, Nutcracker Inc., and also is the drink’s unofficialize historian. “Uptown,” black says, “for those in the know, he is the king that nutcrackers.”


Nobody remembers the exact year nutcrackers got their start, yet it to be either 1993 or 1994. “When the Knicks to be still good,” says José Chu, a restaurant manager who helped invent them. It taken place at Flor de Mayo, a popular Chino-Latino restaurant on 101st St. And also Broadway. Young guys gathered there to watch basketball games at the bar, and one night, a drug dealer called Juice suggested they do a brand-new cocktail. Chu and Juice raided the rack and started pouring. Eventually, Chu take it a sip that what they’d put together.

The original “Nut Cracker,” as it’s styled ~ above the menu, is a multilayered sensation, through the tart, tooth-dissolving sweet of Jolly Ranchers and also the deep, viscous complete of sneeze syrup. “It it s okay you,” Chu says. “You get high top top that.” He acquired the name as soon as an advertisement for the new York City Ballet popped increase on TV.

Several years later, in 1999, a young woman, Fatyuil, sat in the restaurant, questioning herself, “What is in that drink, that everyone desires one?” She had arrived indigenous the Dominican Republic two years earlier. In ~ the time, she was cutting hair, but she want more. She no know around nutcracker’s origins or the drink’s mythic potency, however she knew the recipe was something of a secret. “What carry out we need?” she asked she girlfriend. “What room the ingredients?”

So, Fatyuil sent her girlfriend to flirt v the bartender. Once she returned, she had the keys to the kingdom: Bacardi 151, southern Comfort, Amaretto, pineapple juice, grenadine, and Rose’s tart Lime.

That very same night, Fatyuil struggle a liquor store, and mixed a tiny batch. She got her barber shop clients hooked on free samples, and also was soon selling ruby-red nutcrackers because that $10 a pop. Fatyuil says that in the more quickly days, brand-new customers would certainly underestimate the drink’s power. “This is nothing,” someone when complained. “This is juice.” The following day, he returned, absent his wedding ring, which to be either pawned, lost, or confiscated through an upset wife. He couldn’t remember.

In addition to the sheer strength, the illegality was component of the early allure. “It’s underground,” the rapper Sacario told Led black for his documentary. “If you could get a nutcracker at a liquor store and shit, i don’t think it’d have that same,” that pauses to discover the right word. “It’s low.”

Customers were quickly knocking top top Fatyuil’s apartment door in ~ 3 a.m. Looking to buy. She rented a different apartment and also eventually hired four “pretty girls v tight clothes” to ferry drinks down to wait customers top top the sidewalk. “We to be the kings,” Fatyuil says. Approximately the neighborhood, she earned the nickname “La Patrona”: the boss. By 2001, she states she would certainly net countless dollars a week. She purchase her very own barbershop and also sent money back with friends come the Dominican Republic to purchase land.

But the expansion was complicated to manage. “I was scared,” Fatyuil admits. Cars backed up under the block, and also men lingered v their drink to chat with the salesgirls. Once a neighborhood complained, Fatyuil hired him together a deliveryman come buy his silence. Local dealers demanded the she offer referrals for their weed.

With the 34th Precinct just a few blocks away, Fatyuil came to be paranoid. She rented a 2nd apartment because that girls to drop turn off cash ~ sales, and also paired girls that didn’t choose each other, for this reason they would certainly rat if the various other stole. Fatyuil was likewise the only human who blended the drinks, afraid the recipe would gain out, which of course it did anyway.


On march 28, 1995, Freddy Tejada walked the end of Queensboro Correctional basic in lengthy Island City. He’d been locked increase for an ext than two years after being arrested, at 19 years old, on six counts of armed robbery and also criminal use of a firearm. The details the what transpired in the at an early stage morning hours of may 2, 1990 are shed — a fire at the state court administration warehouse several years ago destroyed the situation files — yet a third-degree weapons charge, which can indicate the possession the a silencer, automatically weapon, or “any explosive or incendiary bomb,” suggests that Tejada did no think small, even prior to he embraced his “Imperial” street name.

How Freddy Imperial derived the nutcracker code is unclear (he did no respond to much more than a dozen interview requests), but he gained the cooking recipes sometime approximately 2000, and also soon marketed his own drinks out of a barbershop.

For a time, Fatyuil and Freddy coexisted. She to be on St. Nicholas Avenue, and also he was a couple of blocks away, on Audubon Avenue. In a ar where every block deserve to have its very own subculture and also rhythm, castle might as well have been on different continents, or for this reason she thought. In 2003, Fatyuil was cutting hair as soon as one of she deliverymen sprinted inside, panicked. Yellow cabs complete of undercovers had actually just converged on she apartment building. Narcotics officers damaged down the nutcracker den’s door v a battering ram.

Officers arrested Fatyuil’s girls and also led them outside one by one, making lock look up at an apartment home window across the street, whereby Fatyuil believes an informant was hiding. Policemans tested her drinks for drugs, she says, because the thinking went: Why else would web traffic pile approximately buy she contraband? yet it was just liquor.

Rumor spread that Freddy himself had actually tipped turn off the police, however Fatyuil doubt Freddy walk it. She blames nosy neighbors. Once Fatyuil came under police scrutiny, her immigration standing was dicey, and also she decided to go away, leaving Freddy totally free of his greatest competitor.


Dominican USA aired top top public-access tv at 1 a.m. “Welcome to the wild people of Freddy Imperial,” the show’s tagline promised, “where girlfriend will check out wild parties, feather break, new York neighborhoods, Dominican culture and much more.”

Jeannette Santiago, the programming director at Manhattan neighborhood Network, remembers the display in starker terms. “It was simply a program with strippers in it,” she says. “It was him going to parties and also showing strippers anywhere the place.” but to Freddy, the display was no joke; once he dropped turn off cassette tapes in ~ the network’s 59th Street headquarters, he was quiet, respectful, and also all business.

The few clips that continue to be on YouTube additionally reveal other else: plastic quart containers filled through nutcrackers. Before podcasts, Instagram accounts, and YouTube channels became marketing tools, Freddy distributed his own content, and also filled it with product placement.

The relocate was, as among Freddy’s previous employees put it, “genius.” Sales of royal Nutcracker boomed. Freddy sold it the end of his barbershop year-round, and also the show’s success ginned up demand for the drink past his fiefdom top top Audubon Avenue. Copycat versions, every one a bit further from the original, started to circulate, and also nutcracker aspirants followed established sellers into PJ Wine, the bustling Inwood liquor store, to watch which bottles they put in their shopping carts, hoping to poach the recipe. Others merely tinkered with the formula, adding cheap corn liquor and different juices.

In 2003, cake Indyka to be a weed-dealing poet spring to mitigate her legit exposure once Fatyuil, still retired, bequeathed to she the initial nutcracker recipe. Sour packed liquor bottles into shopping carts, functioning street corners and also late-night parties in Riverside Park. About this time, a frozen nutcracker slushie spinoff — called Nemo due to the fact that the striped presentation resembled the Pixar fish — had actually started come boom. To keep up, cake bought cheap blenders, peeled back the plates on irradiate pole bases, plugged surging protectors into the revealed AC outlets and spun frozen drinks. She states she pocketed $1,000 a day at the elevation of summer.

Customers followed Sour around, even into restaurants, begging she to sell them nutcrackers. “Alcoholics, they were worse than weed heads,” she explains, in between drags off a blunt.


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Nutcrackers appreciated a peculiar niche: illicit enough to generate large profits, however too innocuous come garner lot police attention. Policemans from the 34th Precinct did do occasional busts — in July, 2008, cops cited Freddy for marketing nutcrackers the end of his barbershop; a month later, policemans seized a vehicle at a gas terminal on 9th Avenue filled with five-gallon coolers of nutcrackers and 1,000 Styrofoam cup — yet mostly, the cops no bother with illegal drink sales, which commonly resulted in a summons.

With little enforcement, some blocks soon boasted half-a-dozen sellers. Customers didn’t need to present IDs, so, summer ~ summer, underage youngsters drank, stumbled around, passed the end on stoops, and got in fistfights.


“SELLING BOOZE come KIDS,” screamed the Daily News headline ~ above January 3, 2010. (“What the hell is a nutcracker,” regulating editor Stuart Marques had asked once he first heard the story pitch. “Like the ballet?”)

“Just drink one,” a 16-year-old girl told reporter Simone Weichselbaum, in ~ Freddy’s shop. “Two will acquire you twisted.”

A citywide moral panic ensued. The governor, mayor, and city councilmen authorize statements condemning nutcrackers. Reverend Al Sharpton intimidated to to organize “parent squads” to harass sellers if police didn’t intervene.

In the crackdown that followed, win cops dumped alcohol top top sidewalks and also issued summonses come dealers and also customers that ranged from $250 to $500. NYPD auxiliary officers who to be under 21 infiltrated bodegas because that buy-bust raids. The State Liquor government announced that it would job 20 percent that its investigators come the case, even though the agency’s enforcement staff was simply 11 people. State legislators jockeyed to introduce nutcracker legislation. And also Governor Cuomo ultimately signed the so-called “nutcracker bill,” i m sorry stripped barbers of their licenses for offering alcohol to minors.

It no matter. By that time, nutcracker fever had actually taken hold: In the summer that 2010, N.O.R.E., the rapper, released the song “Nutcracker.” cake Indyka claims she might earn $3,500 top top Latin parade days, shouting “stand the crap back!” as she rushed come mix drinks and also stab straw holes right into containers. Meanwhile, Freddy talk the wave. The Times reported the nutcracker “sellers include young and older women, blue-collar workers, street hustlers and the underemployed,” to compare the drink to Prohibition-era moonshine and also “rotgut whiskey.”

But Freddy was no just hooch peddler. He wanted to kick the companies up one more gear, for this reason he draft a brand logo for imperial Nutcracker, featuring George Washington sipping from a soup container. He convinced the hip-hop star Pitbull to reduced a one-minute promo for his drink. (The clip finishes v a warning: “IF friend BUYING NUTCRACKERS and IT DOESN’T have THIS logo ITS FAKE!”) Freddy also printed T-shirts with the logo and sold them because that $20; they came to be so coveted the fans still leave social media comment asking wherein to purchase them. In February 2013, Freddy applied for trademarks top top the design and also the paragraph “Freddy Imperial,” “Imperial Nutcracker,” and also “Imperial Nutty.”

The final episode the Dominican USA aired ~ above Manhattan neighborhood Network in September, 2014. If fans still want to suffer “the wild world of Freddy Imperial,” they can visit make in Mexico, the restaurant at 211th Street and Tenth Avenue that he helped open two months earlier. (In February 2018, Jay-Z invested $9,000 on drinks at made in Mexico before he walked to the club next door, Playroom NYC, whereby Freddy is additionally rumored to it is in an investor, and ran increase a $91,000 tab.)


At Flor de Mayo, José Chu quiet slings the real product because that $14, despite he was compelled to switch to Don Q 151 in 2016 after Bacardi stop its own well known rum. Top top a busy night, the bar have the right to sell 80 nutcrackers. ~ years invested drinking ersatz nutcrackers top top the beach, tasting the original at Flor de Mayo have the right to feel like farming up with T.J. Hooker before finally watching The Wire. If the a customer’s first time, a waitress will certainly list the ingredients and issue a rote, dull warning: “It’ll fuck girlfriend up.”

Knockoffs tho proliferate, too. On a recent Saturday night, ns messaged brooklyn_nutcrackers ~ above Instagram. Fifteen minutes later, the 26-year-old stepped the end of a sedan carrying a plastic bag heavy with watermelon, strawberry lemonade, and also green apologize nutcrackers. It costs him $350 to rally a batch the he divides right into 13 flavors and also eventually sells for $1,100. He nets approximately $400 a day making deliveries and selling nutcrackers at basketball tournaments in the park. He states his cousin gifted that the recipe, which he won’t reveal, but the drink is a saccharine slushie with ideas of corn liquor and also artificial flavors.


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ns asked brooklyn_nutcracker if he had ever before heard the Freddy Imperial. Nope. “But,” the added, “I assistance anyone who chooses to execute this hustle.”

Freddy Imperial’s heritage may it is in invisible to his heirs due to the fact that that’s just how he prefers it. Because that months, he escaped my initiatives to obtain in touch. Freddy ignored messages I sent to Dominican USA’s Instagram account. He dodged organization cards and a note that i hand-delivered to his restaurant. (Security searched me completely on many occasions.) A message sent v his nightclub’s VIP table booking hotline went unanswered.

“He’s a studied dude, man,” says Frank Billini, who cut hair at Freddy’s barber shop in 2007 and also 2008 and also remains faithful to the male that, to him, displayed the consummate uptown hustler. “The an ext the an enig is prolonged, the much more valuable the gonna be as soon as it’s done, ya know? creating that hype.”

It’s unclear even if it is Imperial’s nutcrackers room still because that sale — some think castle are, while others say Freddy hasn’t offered them in year — however they haven’t gone far completely. Photos the quart containers still popular music up top top Instagram v the tag #imperialnutcracker, and Dominican USA’s Instagram feed, i m sorry is commonly filled with photos that scantily clad women and shocking viral videos, post a new pic ~ above the an initial warm job of spring: a man’s hand, hold the signature 32-ounce soup container, heavy with crimson liquid.

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This article has to be updated. An earlier version mischaracterized a statement from Sour Indyka.