A bottle of whiskey with no online footprint. A bar that’s long been closed. An address that doesn’t exist. Six years ago, Akhil and Nisha Dayal found a whiskey bottle at an estate sale whose backstory they couldn’t trace. Can The Sporkful uncover the origins of this mysterious whiskey?
Correction: We defined "single malt" and "blend" incorrectly in an earlier version of this episode. The audio has now been updated to reflect the correct definition.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Johanna Mayer, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O'Connell.
Original song “Palisade Ave.” by Dan Pashman (lyrics) and Jeff Morgenstern (music), performed by Jeff Morgenstern (vocals), Eric Kilburn (bass and guitar), Scott Shetler (saxophone), Mike Connors (drums), and Joe Barbato (piano and organ). Produced by Eric Kilburn at Wellspring Sound Studio and mixed by Casey Holford.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "One Night Tango" by Steve Pierson
- "Silhouette" by Erick Anderson
- "Lowtown" by Jack Ventimiglia
- "Still In Love With You" by Stephen Clinton Sullivan
- "Secret Handshake" by Hayley Briasco
Photo courtesy of Dan Pashman.
Akhil Dayal: A lot of like antique type of things that we saw — grandfather clocks, right? So that type of vibe.
Nisha Dayal: Craftsmen staircase.
Dan Pashman: I'm picturing like a thick olive green carpet.
Akhil Dayal: That might've been there. That might've been there.
Dan Pashman: This is Akhil and Nisha Dayal, they’re married, and they love going to estate sales — that’s when people sell off the belongings of someone who’s died. Over the years they’ve picked up some cool stuff — mostly nice artwork. Back in 2016, they’re at an estate sale in Wyckoff, New Jersey, in the New York City suburbs. And they're poking around, searching for treasures.
Dan Pashman: What conclusions could you draw about this guy who had died?
Akhil Dayal: Well-read, well-traveled in a sense — very worldly.
Nisha Dayal: You know, the quiet cultured — you know, someone who likes to sit around with a nice glass [Akhil Dayal: Right.] and have a drink.
Akhil Dayal: Old gentlemen has a robe on and sits back in the evening, drinking his whiskey, sitting in front of the grandfather clock, smoking cigar.
Dan Pashman: Nisha and Akhil spot a liquor table in the corner. It has a lot of items you’d expect from a well-stocked bar — Remy Martin, Courvoisier, a few bottles of champagne.
Akhil Dayal: Then we came across this particular one. It definitely looked, you know, old vintage.
Nisha Dayal: Yeah, it definitely looked older.
Akhil Dayal: It's a Ray Pavlick private stock, a blended scotch whiskey, distilled in Scotland, imported exclusively for the Nutcracker Inn, in Garfield, New Jersey.
Dan Pashman: Nisha and Akhil have never heard of Ray Pavlick Scotch whiskey. The bottle is green glass, with a yellowed label and fancy font — looks kind of like how they write The New York Times. The bottle’s open — it’s about half-full — not unusual for an estate sale.
Akhil Dayal: You know, we’re not connoisseurs of whiskey, but we knew that age matters. So we figured, okay, this one looks old, looks vintage ...
Nisha Dayal: It was very different.
Akhil Dayal: Right.
Nisha Dayal: You know. It wasn't something you could just buy at the store.
Dan Pashman: Nisha and Akhil buy the bottle for about 15 bucks. They may not be huge whiskey drinkers, but they are collectors. They bring it home. And because they’re in the process of moving …
Akhil Dayal: We brought it in and kind of stored it in our closet, where one day, when we get older, we'll crack open these bottles. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: One day, you'll sit in your robes by the fireplace with the grandfather clock and drink scotch.
Nisha Dayal: Exactly.
Dan Pashman: That closet is where the bottle stays — for 5 years. Akhil and Nisha never have a single sip of it. Then about a year ago, they have a friend over and this friend actually is a whiskey connoisseur. They remember the bottle of Ray Pavlick Private Stock, and pull it out to show it to him.
Akhil Dayal: Immediately he says, "I don't recognize this brand. So first thing that you do start Googling it," and still no results.
Dan Pashman: Wait, you Googled this scotch and there were zero results?
Akhil Dayal: There were zero results.
Dan Pashman: So did you Google the inn?
Nisha Dayal: I actually didn't think to.
Dan Pashman: Remember the label says this whiskey was bottled exclusively for The Nutcracker Inn …
Akhil Dayal: The Nutcracker Inn in Garfield, New Jersey.
Dan Pashman: Hang on one sec … The Nutcracker Inn? Nope. It's not coming up.
Nisha Dayal: Yeah, I don’t see it either.
Akhil Dayal: Wow. The address is 237 Palisade avenue in Garfield.
Dan Pashman: [TYPING] 237 Palisade avenue, Garfield, New Jersey — no business's coming up. I'm on Google earth right now. 235 is Lian’s Kitchen Chinese restaurant. What's this one? Nope. That's 239. Wait a second. The Chinese restaurant is 235 Palisade Avenue, Garfield, New Jersey. The very next house, 239. There is no 237 Palisade Avenue in Garfield, New Jersey.
Dan Pashman: Whoa. I just got chills. Did you just get chills?
Dan Pashman: So we’ve got a bottle of scotch that Nisha and Akhil bought off a dead guy. As far as the internet knows, the brand — Ray Pavlick Private Stock — doesn’t exist. And the inn for which it was bottled is at a location that doesn’t show up on maps.
Dan Pashman: Finding this bottle feels like catching a ghost. Where did it come from? How did it get here? What’s its life story? And what does it taste like? I am determined to find out.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters. I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. And today, we’re attempting to solve a whiskey mystery.
Dan Pashman: I ask Akhil and Nisha to get me any details they can recall about the house where they bought the bottle. If we can find the identity of the dead guy, he might have friends or relatives with clues. Nisha and Akhil also agree to look into the bottling company named on the back label. I tell them, I’ll dig into the Ray Pavlick brand and the Nutcracker Inn.
Nisha Dayal: All right. Sounds good.
Akhil Dayal: That sounds great.
Dan Pashman: Now, I’m no whiskey expert but I do know a few things. Scotch is a type of whiskey that must come from Scotland. The fanciest, most expensive Scotch is single malt, meaning everything in the bottle was aged in a single barrel. A blend can be a mix of whiskeys from different barrels. Blends are usually considered lower-shelf, and this Ray Pavlick Scotch Whiskey is a blend. So I don’t think it’s very valuable.
Dan Pashman: But to me that makes this more intriguing. Like, why would this person who lives in a house with a grandfather clock and a craftsman staircase hang on to a cheap, no-name bottle of Scotch? Save it seemingly for decades among all the fancy bottles?
Dan Pashman: As I begin my search for answers, the first person I think of is my friend Noah Rothbaum. He’s been writing about spirits for nearly 20 years. I send him photos of the label. He writes back right away and asks for more photos. He wants to see the tax stamp on the bottle — that’s usually the little paper seal that breaks when you twist off the cap. I have no idea why he’d want that, but the fact that he knows to ask for it makes me think I’ve come to the right person. I get a photo of it from Akhil and Nisha, send it along, and wait.
Dan Pashman: Meanwhile, I start looking into The Nutcracker Inn and the mysterious 237 Palisade Ave address. And I know just who to call about that.
Howard Pashman: Hi.
Dan Pashman: Hey. So quick question for ya. I'm working on a Sporkful episode and I thought maybe you would like to be a part of it and help out with it.
Howard Pashman: [LONG PAUSE] Maybe.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] So there’s this couple in New Jersey …
Dan Pashman: This is my brother, Howard. He’s a lawyer, in New Jersey, who does some work with property law. And he’s got a PhD. in history, so he knows a thing or two about searching through old records. Frankly, he’s perfect for this assignment. I bring him up to speed. He sits down in front of his laptop and begins poking around. I can tell he’s very excited about our mission.
Howard Pashman: [HUMS] Could that be it? [LAUGHS] Let's see. All right, that doesn't help.
Dan Pashman: Are you just Googling?
Howard Pashman: No.
Dan Pashman: Are you looking through some sort of special historian archive database?
Howard Pashman: It's a special archive that only I have access to as someone who has a PhD.
Dan Pashman: Seriously?
Howard Pashman: No, of course not.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Howard clicks around, looks at the county clerk’s website, then the county land records. Eventually, he lands on the local tax assessor’s website and navigates to the section that says “tax parcel viewer”. He pulls up a map of Palisade Ave, zooms in looking for some trace of 237. If we were in CSI, this is the moment where he would be in front of a computer and I’d be over his shoulder saying, “Enhance! Enhance!” Something catches his eye. The lot for 235 is exactly twice as big as all the others — it’s a double lot.
Howard Pashman: It's possible that the lots were combined. You know, it's possible that that doesn't exist anymore. The reason you can't find it is that it was essentially combined with another lot at some point.
Dan Pashman: So what is now 235, like that same building or piece of land could be where the inn was?
Howard Pashman: Exactly. It's not that strange that the lots may have been combined. You know, the inn? If it went under a long time ago or who knows, maybe it was imported as a joke. Maybe there really wasn't a Nutcracker Inn. Maybe it was just somebody who likes scotch, who always invited their friends over for poker night on Fridays or something like that, and they called themselves the Nutcracker Inn? So it's possible there was never actually a Nutcracker Inn to begin with.
Dan Pashman: [SIGHS] This what it’s like being in a family of lawyers. Everyone’s like, “Is this reality? Are we even alive? I can’t commit to an answer.”
Dan Pashman: Me? I’m still optimistic. I call the Garfield Town Historian thinking they might have details on all this — I leave a few messages. Then I check back in with Nisha and Akhil. They must have some good news for me, right?
Dan Pashman: Nope. The bottling company? Long closed. The exact location of the estate sale? They can’t remember it. Nisha does have the name of the company that hosted the sale, but after a month of phone tag with them, we hear back … and they lost the records.
Dan Pashman: So then I think, hey, usually after an estate sale, the house is sold. Right? Maybe if we can get a list of all the houses sold in the area, and look through obituaries from the same time period, then we can cross-reference them, and narrow it down. Well, we quickly realized we don’t have the time or resources for that kind of investigation.
Dan Pashman: At this point, we basically have a corkboard with photos of whiskey bottles, google maps searches, and property records, strings of red yarn all over the place, none of them leading anywhere. And then ...
CLIP (NOAH ROTHBAUM): This bottle is more interesting than most that people ask me about.
Dan Pashman: After the break, our whiskey expert gets back in touch with some surprising findings. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, make sure you check out last week's show. I talk with Wendy Osefo, a Real Housewife of Potomac — first Real Housewife we've ever had on The Sporkful. She's also a Johns Hopkins professor, and food lover and the first Nigerian American Real Housewife. Let me tell you something, she is dead set on making sure her kids know how to make Nigerian food.
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): I never want them to Google: how to make jollof rice. And they use some recipe for some Canadian who has no idea what the hell jollof rice is. And they're like, Hm. I wonder if that's how grandma made it? Heck no, that's not how grandma made it.
Dan Pashman: This is a great conversation that also gets into Wend's complicated relationship with her mother and how that has played out through food over the years. It's is up now, check it out.
Dan Pashman: Now, back to the mystery of the ghost whiskey. You’ll recall I outsourced some of my sleuthing to Noah Rothbaum. He’s the author of The Art of American Whiskey, and the associate editor of The Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails. It’s a reference book that’s close to 900 pages long …
Noah Rothbaum: It's not a cheap book, but if you average it out by the pound, it's actually a pretty good buy, I think, so ...
Dan Pashman: As I’ve said, I don’t know that much about whiskey. So Noah gives me a quick primer on how he approached his research. Remember how he asked me to send a photo of the tax stamp? Turns out the tax stamp can tell you a lot.
Noah Rothbaum: Obviously, the government, since almost the beginning of the U.S. has been trying to tax the production of alcohol. Right? That's what the whole Whiskey Rebellion’s about.
Dan Pashman: After the Revolution, the U.S. government had a lot of debt, and decided to put a tax on distilled liquors. People didn’t like that. Hence, back in the late 1700s, rebellion. Ever since that time, all whiskey bottles are required to have tax stamps on them. And those tax stamps offer clues …
Noah Rothbaum: Basically, they change the tax stamp over time. So that's one way to date a bottle because most bottles don't have a date. So I called my friend Edgar Harden in the U.K. He has a company called the Old Spirits Company, where they buy and sell bottles. And he was saying that basically. like before ‘73, the tax stamp would say the name of the importer or distributor. And since this one does not, it means it's from after 1973. And he thought from his expert opinion of looking at tax stamps all day and night, that it’s probably from the mid-seventies, like the bottle. Which, if you told me that I would find tax stamps, like fascinating, you know, before …
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: Okay, so the bottle’s from the mid-’70s, which turns out to be a key period in Scotch history.
Noah Rothbaum: In 1975 is kind of the high watermark for sales of scotch in America at the time. Almost all scotch, except for a very little bit is blend. Blended scotch is huge. After ‘75, the whole market crashes. The distillers have to kind of reinvent themselves.
Dan Pashman: This crash Noah’s talking about — for years, distilleries had been overproducing whiskey. Then in the mid-’70s, there was a cultural shift. Younger people saw whiskey as the stuff their parents drank. The cool kids wanted vodka and rum. So whiskey companies had to do something.
Noah Rothbaum: So they create this whole idea that single malts are for connoisseurs. Blends are kind of for rubes. And you know, people in Scotland have always drunk single malt, which is not true for the most part. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Right.
Noah Rothbaum: But the blends back in the day were incredibly good, where now, obviously, mostly we talk about single malts.
Dan Pashman: So a blend from the '70s might have been high quality stuff. After inspecting the tax stamp, Noah did something else that, honestly, I can’t believe I didn’t think to do. This whole time, I had been searching for Ray Pavlick Private Stock, Ray Pavlick scotch whiskey. I was looking for Ray Pavlick like it was a brand or a company …. But Noah was searching for a person named Ray Pavlick and he found one.
Noah Rothbaum: Ray Pavlick was a almost lifelong resident of New Jersey who ran kind of a local institution called the Nutcracker Inn in Garfield. He was the owner of the Nutcracker Inn. And ran it for like 30 years.
Dan Pashman: Noah does have a subscription to a special database full of old newspaper articles, which helped his hunt. With that, all he had to do was punch in “Ray Pavlick,” “Garfield, New Jersey” – and boom, there’s our guy.
Dan Pashman: Noah tells me back in the ‘70s it was pretty common for a bar to have their own private label bottles. Restaurants, airlines, hotels — essentially, anyone could order a generic bottle of liquor from a distillery and slap their own name on it.
Noah Rothbaum: Literally the bar next door could have the exact same scotch with their name on it in a different bottle. And that's still done today. So this was either for people who were drinking at the Nutcracker Inn, or you could possibly purchase it like as an alternative to J&B or Cutty Sark.
Dan Pashman: Was it actually an Inn or was it like a bar and tavern, That was just called an inn.
Noah Rothbaum: It was a bar, like that was called like an inn.
Dan Pashman: Okay. Okay. So they weren't having overnight guests.
Noah Rothbaum: Not on purpose anyway, I don't think — you know, I mean?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Right.
Dan Pashman: Noah says while some blends from the '70s were very good, he’s not super optimistic about how this one might taste.
Noah Rothbaum: If you note from the label is very ornate, right? You know, it looks private stock and it's — the lettering is — it seems very impressive. And if you look closely, it says, you know, by popular requests and, you know, special, liqueurs and it's almost a little bit too much, you know what I mean? Where it's like the lady doth protest too much.
Dan Pashman: What Noah’s saying is: This label looks like it’s trying very hard to convince you that the liquor inside is super fancy. To him, it looks like it’s trying a little too hard.
Dan Pashman: When Nisha and Akhil and I looked at the label and the name The Nutcracker Inn, we imagined an esteemed international hotel, or maybe a cozy, upscale B&B that served rare imported spirits. But what Noah’s describing to me, sounds more like a dive bar.
Dan Pashman: As he kept poking through old newspaper articles, Noah eventually landed on Ray Pavlick’s obituary. He died in 1999.
Noah Rothbaum: He was born in River Edge, New Jersey, which is not too far from there. And he was a volunteer fireman. He'd been like a member of the civil defense special police. He even ran for Councilman several times. And Ray had lived almost his whole life except for eight years in Florida in Orlando, in New Jersey. This is like a Springsteen song, right? I mean, he's living the dream. He's running the bar, people know him, he's got his name on a bottle of Scotch. I mean, this is like, who wouldn't want to go there on a happy hour for, you know, some of his Ray Pavlick’s private stock on the rocks.
Noah Rothbaum: I'd like to think of it as sort of the unofficial councilman of Garfield, you know, holding court behind this bar, which, I mean, that's really the traditional purpose of a bar. This is where people did business. This is where people came to socialize. You know, they were the heart of the town.
Dan Pashman: I love a bar that's a real like community gathering spot.
Noah Rothbaum: This is really a piece of New Jersey history that you found. I feel like almost we should have Bruce Springsteen in the background singing a song about Ray Pavlick and this bottle. Forget "Thunder road", this is the story of New Jersey right here.
Dan Pashman: I love that Noah, but I'm not fully satisfied.
Noah Rothbaum: [LAUGHS] Oh no.
Dan Pashman: I mean this — thank you. Thank you.
Noah Rothbaum: Perfect.
Dan Pashman: This has been fantastic. You did an incredible job with your research, but I'm still curious to learn more about Ray Pavlick and the Nutcracker Inn.
Dan Pashman: I have an image forming in my head of who Ray Pavlick was, what his bar was like, but it’s still very fuzzy. I want to talk to somebody who actually knew Ray. Someone who’s actually been to the Nutcracker, spent time there. What was it like? Who were the characters inside?
Dan Pashman: As I’m wondering about this, I get an email from my brother, Howard. He acted like he wasn’t into this, but meanwhile he’s been poring through archives, on the hunt! And he’s dug up an old land deed. Turns out, he was right — the lots were combined. So, 237 Palisade Ave is now part of 235 Palisade Ave. Then, I finally hear back from the Garfield town historian, who’s never heard of the Nutcracker, but sends a few clips from old newspapers — including one with a picture of the bar. I pull up Google Earth and compare the Chinese restaurant at 235 Palisade Ave to the picture – it’s a match. This is confirmation. The Nutcracker was 237, Lian’s Kitchen is 235, but they’re the same building. The Nutcracker is still standing.
Dan Pashman: Now I just need to find someone who’s stood inside it. After a lot of snooping on Facebook and more than a few wrong numbers, I find a couple people who fill in the rest of the image.
Jimmy Pavlick: My name is James Donald Pavlick.
Vinnie Pavlick: I'm Vincent William Pavlick.
Jimmy Pavlick: We lived above the bar. It was a three-story house.
Dan Pashman: Jimmy and Vinnie are brothers — Ray Pavlick was their dad, their mom was Carol Pavlick. Today, Jimmy’s 43, and Vinnie’s 33. They have a bunch of siblings who are much older, and the entire family lived above the bar in the ‘80s. Jimmy and Vinnie were very young when their parents were running the Nutcracker, so they don’t have many firsthand memories of the place. But 237 — or now, 235 — Palisade Ave still means a lot to them and their family.
Jimmy Pavlick: My dad lived in the bar. He woke up 6:00 A.M. and he bartended until 12. He ran the whole place.
Vinnie Pavlick: My dad loved that bar. It was all of his friends. All his friends were the drunks. They would all come there and hang out — from what my mom told us.
Dan Pashman: From what Jimmy and Vinnie tell me, the Nutcracker was a pretty classic, simple joint — one big room with a pool table and a jukebox. Sometimes, as the night wore on, Ray would fall asleep behind the bar. Patrons would pour their own beers and leave cash by the tap. Even as a little kid, Jimmy was in and out of the place.
Jimmy Pavlick: I used to shoot pool with a lot of people that went there. I would enter pool tournament events and they all knew me. It was definitely an older folks' bar. They would come after work and they would sit at the bar and just shoot the stuff and talk and drank until dad kicked them out basically.
Dan Pashman: It wasn't a hip trendy place.
Jimmy Pavlick: Oh, no.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Jimmy Pavlick: No. The only time it was hip and trendy is probably when my brothers and sisters would take the bar over when my parents went bowling.
Dan Pashman: Oh? What happened those nights?
Jimmy Pavlick: I was bowling with my parents.
Dan Pashman: Oh, okay.
Jimmy Pavlick: So I couldn't tell you. God knows.
Dan Pashman: Ray’s wife Carol worked during the day as a nurse, but she was a key fixture at the bar too, sometimes cooking chicken and dumplings for the patrons for dinner. She kept a cot in the back for people who sometimes slept at the bar instead of attempting to drive home.
Jimmy Pavlick: Nobody called her by her name, she was mom to everybody.
Dan Pashman: For Jimmy and Vinnie, talking about the Nutcracker clearly brings back warm memories, especially about their parents. But as we keep talking it becomes clear it wasn’t all rosy.
Dan Pashman: And what about your mom's role In everything? What do you think her feelings were about the bar?
Jimmy Pavlick: Well, I believe — now, I don't know this because it was before my time, but I believe at one point she was an alcoholic. And so she probably didn't care much for the bar cause she never really drank again in her life.
Dan Pashman: Jimmy and Vinnie tell me it was the same for Ray.
Jimmy Pavlick: He was an alcoholic at one point, from my understandings. I’ve heard stories.
Vinnie Pavlick: From my understanding, it was when he was in the Army. When he was younger, he used to drink a lot.
Dan Pashman: And what was your impression of the place? How did it look to you as a 10-year-old?
Jimmy Pavlick: I didn’t like it. Because a lot of the guys would pee themselves and [LAUGHS] — so it was — I’ve seen a lot of stuff. A lot of fights. A lot of — nothing I would want to live with on a daily basis.
Dan Pashman: So that's quite a thing to think about, two recovering alcoholics running a bar that was partly patronized by alcoholics, based on what you're telling me.
Vinnie Pavlick: Mm-hmm.
Jimmy Pavlick: Right. A lot of people that came though were like family to them.
Vinnie Pavlick: Mm-hmm.
Jimmy Pavlick: Like there's certain points where some of them lived in our basement. I still talk to some of them.
Dan Pashman: Ray and Carol ran the place for about 30 years, starting in the 1960s. The Nutcracker caught fire twice, and suffered some pretty bad damage. They rebuilt both times.
Dan Pashman: By the late ‘80s, Ray was getting older, and started having some health issues. One day while working behind the bar, he had a major heart attack. Running the bar became too much. In 1991, he and Carol sold the Nutcracker, and moved down to Florida, along with Jimmy and Vinnie — the youngest of their kids. But they took pieces of the bar with them. The house in Florida became a sort of museum dedicated to the bar.
Vinnie Pavlick: Didn't we have the jukebox on the porch?
Jimmy Pavlick: Yeah.
Vinnie Pavlick: We had all the little trinkets, like Budweiser trinkets and all that stuff always hung up on the cabinets and all that. I remember the pool table lights being in the attic.
Dan Pashman: So I should tell you why I'm so interested in your father's story and the Nutcracker. I host a food podcast, as I'm sure you've gathered by now, and...
Dan Pashman: So when we reached out to Jimmy and Vinnie, we told them we were interested in their father and his story, but we didn’t give them details. This whole time we’re on Zoom together, they’re looking at me kind of funny — like, why do you want to know so much about our dad’s old bar? And what does this have to do with us? So I fill them in on how Akhil and Nisha found this mysterious bottle of scotch at an estate sale, how my friend Noah dated the bottle from the tax stamp, how we traced it to their father and now to them.
Dan Pashman: So I'm gonna share my screen with you. I'm gonna show you a picture of the bottle. You ready?
Jimmy Pavlick: Oh shi – [LAUGHS]
Vinnie Pavlick: Oh my god.
Jimmy Pavlick: It's crazy.
Vinnie Pavlick: Are you serious?
Jimmy Pavlick: That’s so crazy. Ray Pavlick Private Stock, blended Scotch whisky distilled in Scotland. Imported exclusively for the Nutcracker Inn, 237 Palisade Ave Garfield, New Jersey. That’s what it says.
Vinnie Pavlick: Wow. That is insane.
Jimmy Pavlick: Wow. Never knew that.
Vinnie Pavlick: Me either.
Jimmy Pavlick: How come I don’t have a bottle of that?
Vinnie Pavlick: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying!
Vinnie Pavlick: I get kind of teary-eyed just seeing his name on the bottle. You know how I am, I’m a big sap.
Jimmy Pavlick: I've never seen this.
Vinnie Pavlick: I've never seen or heard about this.
Dan Pashman: What do you think this tells you about your dad?
Vinnie Pavlick: That he wanted to be — he wanted his bar to be known.
Jimmy Pavlick: He loved what he did, obviously.
Vinnie Pavlick: Yeah. When he was passing away, everybody came to visit him. I didn't know my dad was so popular. I grew up in Florida, so it's like when we came to Jersey for his burial, it was insane. They had the police, they had the fire department, they had — there was hundreds of people. Right, Jim?
Jimmy Pavlick: It was over 400.
Vinnie Pavlick: I was like, dude, who is this guy?
Dan Pashman: To the Pavlicks, the Nutcracker was more than just a bar. It anchored their lives, for better or worse. Their friends were the customers. Their whole family lived above it. There was a pool in the backyard where the kids would swim in the summer.
Vinnie Pavlick: Like my other brothers and sisters jumping off the roof into the pool and my dad would be running the bar and everybody would run up to him and Jimmy would run up to him to get quarters to go to the arcade, and he loved the bar. He was always in the bar. He was talking to his friends. And like Jimmy said, everybody was family who went to that bar. So I would definitely see him doing this type of thing just to be like, “Yeah, I'm Ray Pavlick and this is my bar. And look, this is my whiskey.”
Jimmy Pavlick: I'm still blown away by the bottle. The whole time we've been talking, I've been staring at it like ...
Vinnie Pavlick: Me, too.
Jimmy Pavlick: Like it's gonna talk to me or something. [LAUGHS] I'm like blown away. Blown away.
Jimmy Pavlick: Hey Dan.
Dan Pashman: Yeah?
Jimmy Pavlick: I have a question.
Dan Pashman: Yeah?
Vinnie Pavlick: Is there any way I could like come see the bottle in person?
Dan Pashman: On a sunny day in early October, I’m standing on Palisade Ave, outside Lian’s Kitchen in Garfield, New Jersey. It’s a pretty main road, a combination of two-story apartment buildings, row houses, and storefronts — a coin laundromat, a convenience store, a printing press that looks like it closed. I’m with Akhil and Nisha and I’ve hinted that one more person will be joining us, but I haven’t told them who.
Dan Pashman: Oh, I think that's him. Hey man, great to meet you in person.
Vinnie Pavlick: Nice to meet you.
Dan Pashman: So Vinnie this is Akhil,
Akhil Dayal: Hey!
Vinnie Pavlick: How you doing?
Dan Pashman: This is Nisha.
Nisha Dayal: Hi, nice to meet you.
Vinnie Pavlick: Vinnie. It's nice to meet you.
Nisha Dayal: Nice to meet you too.
Dan Pashman: So I didn't really tell Akhil and Nisha who else was coming. We're at 235 Palisade Avenue in Garfield, New Jersey. How does it feel to be here, Vinnie?
Vinnie Pavlick: I actually was just by here the other day just to make sure I knew where it was.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Vinnie lives nearby, he moved back to Jersey as an adult. Jimmy couldn’t make it. He still lives in Florida, in the same house that he and Vinnie grew up in with all the trinkets from the bar.
Dan Pashman: So Akhil and Nisha, in case it's not clear, Vinnie's full name is –
Vinnie Pavlick: Vincent Pavlick.
Dan Pashman: This is Vinnie Pavlick. Ray Pavlick was his father.
Vinnie Pavlick: Yup.
Dan Pashman: Hearing thing, Akhil and Nisha seem in shock. By this point they had heard the story of Ray Pavlick, they knew he died. Seeing someone with such a close connection to Ray standing right in front of them? It’s almost like they’re seeing a ghost.
Vinnie Pavlick: When he showed me the bottle. I said, Oh my goodness. Like, where did you guys get that?
Dan Pashman: Akhil and Nisha tell Vinnie about how they got the bottle — about the estate sale, and the old house with a craftsman staircase and the grandfather clock. About how the bottle of Ray Pavlick Private Stock caught their eye.
Dan Pashman: So Akhil and Nisha bought this bottle knowing nothing about it. What do you want them to know about it?
Vinnie Pavlick: That my dad put a lot of hard work and like all his time and effort into the bar and into selling liquor and having a good time. And he had people that literally lived here.
Nisha Dayal: Home away from home?
Vinnie Pavlick: Yeah. Home away from home basically.
Dan Pashman: I think we should break out the bottle.
Vinnie Pavlick: I'm down.
Dan Pashman: Let's have a look.
Dan Pashman: Akhil pulls the bottle out of the bag he’s carrying.
Vinnie Pavlick: This is so awesome, guys. Listen, this is like a part of Garfield history right here.
Vinnie Pavlick: Are we gonna take a shot?
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Vinnie Pavlick: Let me go get my girl real quick.
Dan Pashman: Yeah, yeah.
Dan Pashman: Vinnie’s fiance, Jackie, was waiting in the car. He goes to bring her over, so she can see the bottle too.
Vinnie Pavlick: This is Jackie.
Dan Pashman: Oh hey, Jackie.
Dan Pashman: I'm Dan. Nice to meet you.
Jackie: Oh, nice to meet you.
Dan Pashman: Hi.
Dan Pashman: It’s time for a toast. I brought plastic cups.
Dan Pashman: All right Vinnie —
Vinnie Pavlick: Are you gonna pop it?
Dan Pashman: Why don't you do the honors?
Vinnie Pavlick: All right.
Dan Pashman: Am I right? Akhil and Nisha, this is the first time this bottle's been opened.
Akhil Dayal: That's right. That's right.
Dan Pashman: You bought it seven or eight years ago.
Akhil Dayal: Yup.
Vinnie Pavlick: Wait, you didn't even try yet?
Dan Pashman: No, they haven't tried it.
Jackie: Wow. That's awesome.
Nisha Dayal: So the last person who may have drank that bottle is a family member.
Vinnie Pavlick: Yeah.
Jackie: That's amazing. Could have been your dad. [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: All right. Cheers.
Vinnie Pavlick: Cheers.
Dan Pashman: To Ray. To Ray and Carol.
Vinnie Pavlick: It's good? Delicious.
Jackie: Yeah, it's good.
Vinnie Pavlick: It's actually really smooth.
Dan Pashman: Akhil and Nisha, thoughts?
Nisha Dayal: It's really good.
Akhil Dayal: Delicious.
Vinnie Pavlick: It was smoother on the way down than I thought …
Jackie: Yeah, it went down nice.
Dan Pashman: I am – I am flabbergasted at how good that tasted.
Vinnie Pavlick: No, seriously!
Dan Pashman: I did not expect ...
Vinnie Pavlick: That bottle is what, 50 years old?
Dan Pashman: Yes. And typically like alcohol doesn't technically go bad.
Jackie: I feel warm now.
Dan Pashman: But the water can evaporate [Vinnie Pavlick: Evaporate.] and it can lose some of its smoothness. This is delicious.
Jackie: Yeah, that's good.
Akhil Dayal: Let’s finish it off here.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Vinnie Pavlick: Oh, thanks man. Listen, thank you guys.
Akhil Dayal: Of course. Now look, obviously, we know how much this means to you, your family, the history you have here. So this is yours.
Vinnie Pavlick: Are you really giving me the bottle?
Akhil Dayal: Yes, we are.
Akhil Dayal: We’d love for you to have it. It is — we know how much sentimental value and stuff it is.
Vinnie Pavlick: I have to cry now? [LAUGHS] Thank you guys. I appreciate it.
Jackie: He talks about his dad every day, any time he get's the chance. This is amazing.
Vinnie Pavlick: Thank you so much.
Akhil Dayal: Yeah.
Nisha Dayal: Our pleasure.
Jackie: Thanks a lot.
Vinnie Pavlick: I'm a big sap so it's like — imagine Jimmy was here?
Jackie: I know!
Vinnie Pavlick: We would been bawling. Honestly, this is a one of one and this is gonna go right in my brother's house and it's gonna go right on the top, right with all his other stuff. So I appreciate it so much.
Dan Pashman: Before we wrap up, one more thing. Noah Rothbaum was right — this whole story does sound like it should be a Bruce Springsteen song. So, we decided to write the song we think Bruce would write.
Dan Pashman: As a native New Jerseyan myself, whose first concert was Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in Giants Stadium on the Born in the USA tour — thank you very much. I think I'm well qualified to write the lyrics. To write the music and perform the song, we have Jeff Morgenstern. He’s a Bruce fan who was also born in New Jersey, but most importantly he’s the father of Sporkful senior producer Emma Morgenstern. And he’s a musician. So here’s our song, Palisade Ave, in its entirety…
Well, they closed down the steel mill in Garfield late last year,
Went down to Ray and Carol’s just to get me a Scotch and a beer.
Ray said, “If I fall asleep, son, drink up everything I have.
It’s gonna be a long night, down on Palisade Ave."
Well, you know back in high school, Bobby was the star of the team.
Now he’s 10 drinks in, tryin’ to figure out what it all means.
When I sit in this place, seems the world outside ain’t so bad.
Leave my cash on the bar, and head out to Palisade Ave.
In Passaic, my grandad was the mayor.
But me, I got expelled for bad behavior
I drove by your house just lookin for a savior.
In Jersey, everybody’s sayin’ their prayers.
When the bar burned down, Ray and Carol moved down south.
Ray died a couple years ago, the whole damn town came out.
This place just ain’t the same now, these memories are all I have,
But when I open up that bottle boy I’m right back on Palisade Ave.
When I open up that bottle boy I’m right back on Palisade Ave.
Yeah, when I open up that bottle boy I’m right back on Palisade Ave.
Dan Pashman: That is Jeff Morgenstern, to us he’s most famous for being the father of Sporkful senior producer Emma Morgenstern but when he’s not singing, he’s the executive director of Spanish River Concerts in South Florida. Check out their amazing line of show at spanishriverconcerts.org.
Dan Pashman: Casey Holford mixed the song and consulted on its production. Thanks to Eric “The Killer” Kilburn at Wellspring Sound Studio, who produced the track and played bass and guitar. We had “Seattle” Scotty Shetler on sax, “Big C” Mike Connors on drums, and “Joey Bats” Joe Barbato on piano and organ. I just made up all those nicknames. Those are not officially sanctioned nicknames by those people, but Bruce names the people in his band, so we're gonna go with it.
Dan Pashman: And while we’re giving shoutouts to family members, I want to thank Janie. For logistical reasons I was in Garfield with my whole family, as were Akhil and Nisha. Janie set up a coloring activity on the sidewalk and entertained all four kids, so the rest of us could drink Scotch and record. Thank you, Janie. You're the best.