Del Pedro, the owner of this tidy Prospect Heights cocktail den on bustling Washington Avenue, cuts a singular silhouette on New York’s mixology scene. Pegu Club regulars will recognize the bald gentle giant from his days holding court in that Manhattan high church of mixology. At this scruffier drinkery, Pedro’s passions—Americana, jazz, counterculture—inform everything from the bar itself (made from a truck flatbed) to the bookish menu (which references Chekhov). The spot achieves a rare quality in an era of paint-by-numbers cocktail lounges: The intensely personal Tooker Alley generates a genuine human pulse.
ORDER THIS: Sample from among nine original house drinks and six historical incarnations of the martini. Pedro cleverly employs spirits that are elsewhere relegated to the dusty back bar (Dubonnet, B&B) to lend retro, herbal notes to fruit-forward sips. In the bright, tropical Jala-Pinã ($11), serrano-infused honey syrup mingles with pineapple-infused rum and lemon juice, leaving a lingering, pleasant burn. Of the martini variations, the Marguerite ($12)—one of the first to feature dry vermouth—stands out as a velvet-gloved iron fist of a drink. Served steely cold, dry vermouth and orange bitters soften a floral Plymouth gin, making for a cocktail so smooth, you might forget it’s nothing but booze.
GOOD FOR: A chill weekday slug. Understated decor (Edison bulbs set against mirrored discs, heavy iron stools) and a harmonious soundtrack (well-curated jazz) melt evenly into the background as you savor your drink. The bar’s clientele reflect the neighborhood’s diverse demographic, and Pedro’s friendly spirit pervades throughout; fellow guests jump up to move jackets so a new party can sit down, and are quick to recommend a favorite drink.
THE CLINCHER: Friends late to the bar? Not to worry: The 20-plus-page menu, which doubles as a bohemian zine, makes for ample reading material. This one-of-a-kind drinks list—which includes a poetic paean to the martini, multistanza toasts, a chart of hobo symbols and a bio of labor activist Ben Fletcher—offers an endearing, if at times slightly batty, glimpse into the bar’s ethos and Pedro’s expansive mind.—Christopher Ross