Tuesday, August 14, 2012

New in New York: Catch Those Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls

Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Ball is a tasty treat that is New in New York
By Mitch Broder

The groundhog’s at his Hamptons timeshare, but he has dispatched the Imperial Woodpecker to report the good news that there will be six more weeks of winter this summer.

This is startling, since the Imperial Woodpecker is supposed to be extinct. Then again, the groundhog is supposed to be 126.

Patrons enjoy their Sno-balls treats at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Ball a tasty treat that is New in New York
Still, the woodpecker saw its bill, or whatever it is that it does, and predicted abundant snow in New York City through September 24th. The snow will be saturated with flavored syrups, served in paper containers, and sold at the coincidentally named Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls.

Make no mistake: This is snow, not ice. A snow cone is ice; a sno-ball is snow. It comes from a sno-ball machine, in this case the SnoWizard sno-ball machine, which is made in New Orleans, which is the home of sno-balls. Ask the Bronx Zoo who predicts ice.

The machine is owned by Neesa Peterson, who is as warm as snow is cold, and whose store, correspondingly, feels like a little party. She makes sno-balls in forty-six flavors, and she will make them through the end of summer, which, she recognizes, does not fall on Labor Day weekend.

She makes a sno-ball by switching on the sno-ball machine, which shoots snow into the container that, with luck, she is holding at its spout. She adds flavor from one of the bottles of gaily colored syrup, along with a spoon and a straw, since you start with the spoon and finish with the straw.

This New in New York treat is literally made out of snow which comes out of this machine

Her flavors ($4 to $8) include Granny Smith Apple, Pink Bubblegum, Red Velvet Cake, and her favorite, Tiger Blood, which fortunately is strawberry-coconut. Her cream flavors (“Add $1”) include Almond Cream, Chocolate Cream, and her favorite, Sweet Lou’s Nectar Cream. Her grandfather was Sweet Lou.

There are also three toppings (“Add $1”): condensed milk, vanilla ice cream, and marshmallow cream. In the end, though, the flavors and toppings matter less than the sno. Whatever it happens to taste like, it’s fluffy and refreshing, which is why it’s been around for over seventy years.

The menu at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls lists all kinds of New in New York treats

The first sno-ball machine was reputedly made by Ernest Hansen in 1939 (though the SnoWizard company claims their guy made one in 1936). Before that, guys sold sno-balls from carts with snow they shaved by hand from ice blocks. Ernest found this unsanitary. Luckily, he was a machinist.

Also luckily, his wife, Mary, was a pretty good cook. So Ernest made his Sno-Bliz machine, and Mary made sno-ball syrups. They sold sno-balls under a tree, then moved into a store. The store, Hansen’s Sno-Bliz, still exists, along with a flurry of other New Orleans sno-ball stores.

Neesa is not the first to bring the sno-ball to New York City. In 1996, Mary Frey opened Guru Sno-Balls in the East Village. It was in an abandoned gas-station office on Lafayette Street. Guru was her Rottweiler. It’s not clear what he could predict.

This treat that is New in New York is made with real snow and some delicious syrups which are lined up at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls
Mary had roughly the same flavors — plus, in deference to Guru, Doggie Balls, which came in Chicken or Beefy. She moved on in a couple of years, but she left people wanting more. That’s good news for Neesa, who is also a  hit and who doesn’t seem likely to drift from her snow.

She came to New York a few years ago and worked at modeling agencies but discovered that her heart was in her New Orleans roots. She opened Imperial Woodpecker last year on Seventh Avenue South, but it was open just through August. This year she plays the full season.

In fact, she wants to open a year-round store, with warm stuff in winter. And she’s already marketing sno-ball stands for weddings and bar-mitzvahs.

She’ll be happy to tell you anything you want to know about sno-balls. But if you want to know why hers are Imperial Woodpecker, you’ll have to ask the bird.

It's hard to miss this new in New York establishment as the bright sign of Imperial Woodpecker Sno-balls stand out from the street

Summer at Imperial Woodpecker Sno-Balls, 124 MacDougal Street, between West Third and Bleecker streets, in New York City.


  1. What great colors in this shop! That alone is worth the stop it seems! Thanks for the great find ~ perfect for a hot, humid day.

  2. I have to say, I really find it incredible, your take on things. It never ceases to amaze me. I hope you get discovered. You deserve it.

  3. She has big sno-cone cups to fill. Guru's was the best! Will be interesting to see what's served in the cooler months. Possibly a warm Apple Crisp sno-ball or a Baked Alaska sno-ball?