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Food & Drink

The Bar Stool: Tooker Alley

(Photo: Hobo Julep Cocktail, Sara Kay)

Picture, if you will, a club for literally everybody. A coming together of the most upper of crusts and the most bottom of dwellers. In our current lives, these two factions don't have many reasons to commiserate on the events of the day, literature, art, politics and beauty. But in 20th century Chicago, the Dil Pickle Club was the ultimate coming together of different walks of life. And now, in present day Brooklyn, Tooker Alley (793 Washington Avenue, Prospect Heights) is attempting to re-invent the diversity of this organization. While not exactly a hobo hangout as the Dil Pickle Club once was, Tooker Alley is bringing the unique culture of Al Capone's Chi-town to Prospect Heights.

Del Pedro, co-owner of Tooker Alley, takes great pride in making this establishment as close to the Dil Pickle Club as possible, in that it attracts all walks of life in this epicenter of Brooklyn. Being true to the “come one, come all” mentality that most New York City bars choose to shy away from, Tooker Alley combines hand-crafted cocktails, inexpensive beers and a light and casual atmosphere to create something as close in likeness to the Dil Pickle Club as possible. The bar isn’t attracting the hobos and gangsters of the Capone era, but it is bringing in Brooklynites who want great cocktails and a comfortable atmosphere. After a cocktail and a nice chat with Pedro and a few of his bartenders, I have to say, mission accomplished.

Where does the name Tooker Alley come from?

Del Pedro: Tooker Alley was the final and most long serving location of a place in 20th century Chicago called the Dil Pickle Club. It was a place that I came upon by accident by reading about something else, it was a one page mention of it in a book and I got totally curious about the place. I did some more research and found out that, although it’s lost the history, it was really the first countercultural place in America of any real notoriety, even more than things that existed in New York at the time. It had a way more diverse crowd than the New York equivalents which were intellectual and snobby. Dil pickle club was an open forum for any and everybody; it didn’t dumb anything down and operated at a pretty high level artistically. A lot of irreverent humor, they coined the phrase ‘hobohemia'; they had hobos hanging out with Chicago renaissance writers and bohemians. In terms of economic diversity it was extremely open. You literally had North Side society Chicago upscale matrons and mavens hanging out with hobos and gangsters. Having been in the business for so long, it seems like bars have become a little more self-selecting, and I thought it would be cool to say, "No, come one come all!" If you’re interesting and fun, belly up and entertain us. The big motto for the Dil Pickle Club was "Elevate your mind to a lower level of thinking." it was a low-brow aspect that attracted me.

What is the cocktail that you are most proud of?

Pedro: The one we’re most known for is the Hobo Julep. It’s really fit to the Dil Pickle Club idea. Take the mint julep - southern aristocracy, a simple drink, but the idea was to take that drink and “hobo” it. Remove the fancy ladies hat and put on a straw hat. We wanted a cocktail that was strong - really strong - and fun, to diffuse a little of the seriousness of it. We prepare it as lovingly and thoughtfully as any drink we create. The concept was to knock it off its perch and make it a hobo version.

Why do you think this part of Brooklyn is the best location for Tooker Alley?

Pedro: There are certainly other areas where I think we’d fit, but I wanted to be here because of the diversity. I felt that fit the whole Dil Pickle thing, the communal aspect of getting different types of people. Prospect Heights feels like one of the more culturally and economically diverse areas. When you get into gentrified neighborhoods you lose economic diversity. I thought to try and give it some sort of real feeling that it was legitimately connected to the thing it’s referencing, somewhere with urban funk. Washington Avenue has that. This avenue has got some diversity to it, funkiness to it. To have any authenticity to the concept it made sense to not go to an overly developed area.

What do you think makes the bar so diverse?

Pedro: I think it’s not only about the cocktail, it’s about drinking in general. The cocktail is the centerpiece and my background in it is pretty thorough, I care very much about it, if you came in here you would identify it as a cocktail bar, but I think really it’s about drinking in general and the American experience of drinking. The cocktail is not as fetishized here as it is in other places, it may seem that way because it’s so meticulous but really it’s the best possible drink you can have. If you come here and just want a shot and a beer or just a beer, suits me fine. If you want a slug of good spirit on the rocks, that works just as well for me in this place as a seven ingredient cocktail. The idea was to expand and be about drinking in general. It’s hard to overcome the perception that you’re a particular kind of place. If you take the term "cocktail bar," you would stress the word cocktail. We’re trying to stress the word bar.

Signature Cocktail: The Hobo Julep

3 oz Wild Turkey 101
1/2 oz cane syrup
2 dashes Fee Brothers Mint Bitters
Fresh mint, muddled
Splash of club soda

Build in rocks glass with cracked ice. Top with a few dashes of mint bitters.

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