Local Wire

Westwood Tap & Grill is a one jigger per drink kind of place

It's a sweaty Wednesday and I'm running some errands after work when I find myself on the west side of Phoenix. I'm on autopilot, stuck in traffic, when I spot an oasis — a lighted sign that says nothing but "Cocktails" on an old, nondescript block building. I barely avoid two cars as I swerve into the left-turn lane just east of 19th Avenue and Glendale. The "Cocktails" place is right next to a drive-thru liquor store; I wonder if they sell guns, too? For a moment, I ponder a .357 and a pint of Jack, but I decide to check out the hidden gem first.

I pull around back to a hidden lot. There are a half-dozen cars and not a single sign of life anywhere — not a bad place to dump a body. I see the rear entrance and walk to the single iron door that has a small wooden sign that reads "Westwoods" (the official name is Westwood Tap & Grill). It turns out the place does have a name. So much for the lyrics in my head, "Lost in the desert in a bar with no name."

I pry open the antiquated door to find a medium-size, dark, Midwest-looking place with faux brick walls on the right, and a long mirrored bar on the left. This dump should be called Midwest Woods. It's a typical dive, with an old crane game, a pool table, and two electronic dartboards. I feel as though I have stumbled through a wormhole to my college days — I'm instantly in Wisconsin at some cozy old bar with a dozen old folks. It's only 4 p.m., so what should I expect at this time of day? Most of these people must be retired or trying to die.

I saddle up to the only empty seat at the bar next to a gal who is probably the only other person in here under 40 (besides the drug dealer-type playing pool). I order a bourbon press with a lime, and Shirley, the motherly barkeep, doesn't skip a beat. I watch intently as she methodically finds the right bottle, the right glass, and then measures out a pour into a jigger — I'm blown away that I'm getting an exact measured drink! My first thought is, no tip! But then I sip the drink and it isn't that bad, small enough that the mixture works, especially for the price: $2.25.

I continue to watch as Shirley pours exactly one jigger for every cocktail she makes. Nothing more, nothing less. I start to appreciate the simplicity, the non-favoritism. If I'm going to tip, it's because of her service and her wry smile and dry wit. A tip for being a good listener, for caring, for spending days on end with people she probably calls friends and not customers. In fact, I start to long for this egalitarian way of pouring . . . no favorites! I don't know how many times this would save squabbles and fights at other bars.

I also find it comforting that I know exactly how much I'm being served. I'm a big proponent of always watching when people make you your drinks. I don't care if they are your best friend at home, or a random whore at someone's party. Always watch what and how much liquor you're drinking! I'm a pro, but I can tell how drunk I'm going to get by the level of pours in my drinks. Or maybe I'm just an anal prick — either way, I like to know how drunk I'm about to get, how stupid I should prepare myself to be; it gives me time to mentally preserve myself.

I look at the measured drink as I if were on an airplane. I mean, I love those little airline bottles: You know exactly how much you're getting. I went through a phase during which I'd buy only the little airline bottles at my local liquor store. That way I'd be able to just count the empty bottles to tell what the hell I threw down my throat, or for that matter, what I'd end up waking up next to (seven usually does the trick). It's the same concept as saving those little red straws or plastic souvenir cups at baseball games — keep track of what you drink!

After the initial shock of feeling ripped off, I decide I like the pre-measure (can't believe I'm actually saying this). I look around, and the old dame sitting to my right is decked out and wearing tons of bling, drinking draft beer with a shaker of salt. I take a closer look — usually, old class acts like her drink cocktails and have lipstick on their teeth. I ask her, "Are you from Canada?" and point at the salt. She is confused for a minute, and then responds, "Nah, I like to eat it."

Well, hell: That's one way to remain thin and bloated. I am about to ask how the food in this place is, but because she's eating salt, I take it that the grill offering isn't all that spectacular. Although the price for an egg sandwich is just $1.75 — a killer deal! I imagine that as people get drunk, any $1.75 warm, greasy sandwich will fill the void and enable you to drink for that next hour, or at least give you that false feeling of sobriety. I'm sure some of the old codgers should have a few sandwiches so they won't hit on the old lady or go home and hit the old lady.

I love the local friendliness of this early crowd as I overhear half the folks talking about going to a patron's home for a barbecue. I'm surprised I'm not invited, but I really don't fit in, considering my age and beard. I think I'd better leave before I get asked — last thing I need to do is wake up in someone's backyard.

Before I go, I notice a "f#ck bucket" and ask, "What it's for?" Shirley tells me that if you drop the F-bomb, you owe her a quarter. I laugh and push 25 cents over to her and tell her I hate to fucking leave. She doesn't laugh.

I step outside and am immediately confronted with a heat that reminds me I'm still stuck in the desert. I'm not sure I'll venture back to this place, unless I've got a body to dump (hey, let a pig have his fantasy). Time to go home and poor myself a stiff one.

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C.M. Redding
Contact: C.M. Redding