Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
"In developing the bar," explains Del Pedro, owner of the recently opened Prospect Heights bar Tooker Alley, "I really wanted to make sure that the cultural concept be as important as the consumption. When you take culture out, you just get a fetish."
That Chicago's Dil Pickle Club ("the primordial swamp of counter culture in America") serves as a major point of inspiration should reassure you that there's no risk of that happening here. "It wasn't a bar—at least not legally, this was the early 20s—it was more of a cultural place, and highly inclusive. A lot of famous people of the time went there but it also had a heavy hobo contingency and they would heckle people and debate and it kept it from being too pretentious," he recounts. In the glass, Pedro has captured that irreverent attitude in the appropriately named Hobo Julep, a playfully déclassé variation on the Southern classic that calls for club soda and mint bitters.
A bartender in New York since the 1980s, Pedro spent the last four years at Audrey Saunders' famed Pegu Club. "When I first went there, I was stunned and intimidated by what they were doing. Pegu Club was like Harvard for me, Audrey gave me my PhD," he says. Her mentorship makes some cameos on the menu, for example, in the Pineapple-Rye Crusta. "Sugar in cocktails is like fat in cooking, it takes something from tasting flat to tasting round—Audrey taught me that," he says of the importance of the simple syrup in the drink, a play on the Brandy Crusta.
Pedro describes Tooker Alley as a classic American bar, so it's hardly surprising when he mentions plans to add a "shot and a beer" menu or points proudly to the page dedicated to the history of the Martini. "A friend of mine said, 'If people don't like this bar then they don't like you—these are all your private obsessions.'"
Curious for a peek into Pedro's spirited world at Tooker Alley? Check out the cocktails in the slideshow above »