A hundred years ago, the United States was engaged in the 13-year experiment known as Prohibition. After alcohol was banned, illegal bars known as speakeasies proliferated as a way around restrictions. Although the 1933 repeal of Prohibition made underground bars unnecessary, it’s not uncommon a century later to have semi-hidden, although perfectly legal, bars that are colloquially described as speakeasies. Downtown Phoenix has several, and one known as Pigtails operates in obscurity despite being in the heart of the central business district.
Pigtails is an offshoot of the nearby Whining Pig. While the Pig focuses on beer and whine, the speakeasy named for its tail emphasizes cocktails. Like the Whining Pig, Pigtails has a small menu of food to complement its beverage offerings. Before enjoying either a drink or a meal, it’s necessary to find Pigtails. Pigtails is part of the CityScape development near the westbound light rail platform at Washington/Central and its eastbound counterpart at Jefferson/1st Avenue. The closest bike racks are in the CityScape courtyard near CVS, as well as on First Street.
There’s no sign on the door, which is found on Central Avenue despite a Washington Street address. The unmarked entrance to the bar is itself currently obscured by construction of the new downtown transfer hub where east-west and north-south rail lines will soon meet. Look for the door immediately south of Doghaus Biergarten, the more visible neighbor of Pigtails. Upon entry, visitors find themselves in the kitchen. Walk through that space with confidence, open a second door, and a host station awaits with a dark and stylish bar and lounge behind it.
Like many speakeasies, Pigtails has a sort of shoebox design with a long aisle between a row of compact booths and a bar counter. There are also two larger tables with banquettes tucked in corners at both the front and the back of the space. The bar itself is defined by a semi-tropical look that includes a wall of plants in little pockets of soil watered by a built-in drip irrigation system. A boar’s head looks down upon the bar from the very top of the plant wall. The menu is accessible via a QR code, and food and beverage specials are indicated on a chalkboard.
One feature of Pigtails’ approach is a raw bar. When entering through the kitchen, oysters and shrimp on ice are usually visible, and they’re sold by the piece to create an oyster platter or shrimp cocktail of any size desired. There are sometimes cooked seafood items like oysters Rockefeller or marinated dishes like ceviche available, but more often than not the bivalves and crustaceans are served on their own with minimal preparation or adornment. Of course, there are always plenty of cooked food items involving meats and vegetables as an alternative.
The food selections are generally formatted as shareable plates suitable for a happy hour that evolves into dinner as multiple appetizers are ordered and consumed. A charcuterie board seems inevitable in this setting, and Pigtails delivers a sizable and varied one. The same large wooden boards are also used for nachos made with “3rd floor smoke carnitas,” crema, cheese, cilantro, tomatoes, and pickled onions and a Mediterranean board that combines hummus with feta, prosciutto, mushrooms, cucumbers, tomatoes, and generous planks of crisp flatbread.
The same flatbread is used as the foundation of two rectangular pizzas, one a simple caprese of pesto, burrata, tomato, and basil and the other a meat lover’s extravaganza with spicy salami, sausage, prosciutto, and chorizo on a tomato sauce base. Smaller plates include roasted cauliflower dusted with a cajun seasoning and three crispy taquitos stuffed with shredded chicken and drizzled with crema. These items, as well as a cheesy spinach artichoke dip with flatbread, are within the subset of the menu featured at reduced prices during happy hour.
Of course, few customers visit Pigtails just to eat. Cocktails are the main attraction here, and Pigtails has as a one-page list of original drinks so unique that they’re generally not even available at the bar’s other location at Desert Ridge. They’re categorized under headings such as “Light and Citrusy,” “Fun and Refreshing,” “Cool and Nerdy,” and “Bold and Boozy.” Most begin with spirits like mezcal or gin and then augment them with elaborate combinations of bitters, liqueurs, and muddled fruits, resulting in drinks with names as creative as their recipes.
The Magic Carpet Ride is on the lighter side with jasmine tea, lemon, and plum flavors intermingling with Los Javis mezcal and Lillet Blanc wine. Holy Mole is darker and more intense with ancho pasilla infused mezcal and chili liqueur in tandem with cacao and Hellfire bitters. Another spicy drink is the Pera Picante, essentially a pear margarita with some heat. A more soothing touch is found in the Ocean Avenue, a gentle tropical drink of El Tesoro reposado, orgeat syrup, pineapple juice, and lime given a tropical note with coconut shavings on top.
While some of these drinks are liquid desserts, Pigtails offers two solid sweets: One is a strawberry shortcake with biscuits, jam, and whipped cream. The other is a creme brulee in rotating flavors. When sampled most recently, the chosen taste was coffee, a nice match for the custard base. Pigtails may seem hard to find, but when it comes to speakeasies, that trait can be a feature, not a bug. It’s worthwhile to dodge the current construction, pull the heavy door, and walk through the kitchen to enjoy the food and cocktails in this place hidden in plain sight.
1 E. Washington St. #128, Phoenix AZ 85004
Washington / Central (westbound) and Jefferson / First Avenue (eastbound) stations