Pigtails Downtown Hopes to Regain its Early Momentum in Phoenix's CityScape

The entrance to Pigtails as seen from Central Avenue.EXPAND
The entrance to Pigtails as seen from Central Avenue.
Devan Sauer
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The entrance to Pigtails Downtown is easy to miss, but that’s how owners Daniel Caprario, Matt Fulton, and Katy Fulton want it. What appears from the outside to be a small kitchen space at 1 East Washington Street, Suite 128, in the Cityscape building, is actually the entrance. Only a pink neon sign buzzing “Cocktails” hints that a bar lies on the other side of the swinging door.

Pigtails is the craft-cocktail counterpart of the Whining Pig, the beer-and-wine bar with locations all over Phoenix. Its downtown Phoenix is its second; the first is at Desert Ridge in the north-central Valley. The speakeasy-ish spot opened February 18 but was shut down a month later, thanks to COVID.

Since reopening in early September, business has been slow, owing mostly to capacity limitations in an already small space and a decrease in downtown pedestrians.

"The hard thing about downtown is that a lot of the attraction to come here is shows or sporting events," says Jose Morales, the executive chef. "So when that got canceled, we lost a lot of foot traffic."

Morales is confident the bar will regain its early momentum, though, because Pigtails offers something he says most other downtown bars don't: major ambiance.

Guests enter through the bar’s kitchen and pass a raw bar filled with oysters and shrimp that opens up to Central Avenue. They arrive in the main bar, a narrow space with echoes of the Prohibition-era, albeit with modern touches.

Royal blue-tiled walls are decked with luxurious gold accents. Behind the bar, a taxidermied pig’s head hangs at the crown above shelves stocked with vast assortments of liquor.

But what really catches your eye is the vegetation. The bar is surrounded by a lush plant wall — real plants. Though the bar is windowless, a drip system and heat lamps keep the plants thriving. Bar manager John Coy prunes the wall, placing clippings in Mason jars that he uses to decorate the bar and tables.

The Jerry's Chocolate Orange cocktail.
The Jerry's Chocolate Orange cocktail.
Juntos Media

All this, and we haven't even talked about drinks yet. They can get pretty theatrical.

Pigtails’ menu has dozens of cocktail options and is separated into four categories: Light & Citrusy, Refreshing & Fun, Cool & Nerdy, and Bold & Boozy. Some creations are a play on traditional cocktails, while others feature more diverse ingredients like soursop or ube. Some include "cocktail bubbles" or fire elements. The Jerry's Chocolate Orange is garnished with a lit cinnamon stick; the drink smells and tastes like a campfire.

So far, Pigtails is best known for its Whistle Pig Old Fashioned. Components can be smoked with your choice of wood — mesquite, cherry, apple, or pecan.

The food menu, created by Morales, is centered around small, shareable plates: miniature beef Wellingtons, a cast-iron-roasted dish of brie and bacon jam, an imaginative charcuterie board.

“Charcuterie boards are the bread and butter of Pigtails,” Morales says. He takes the time to research the meats and cheeses used on the boards to ensure the best pairings. Items will be changed out seasonally, but the current board includes "Barely Buzzed" cheddar — cheese with notes of lavender and espresso.

According to Morales, a major goal of Pigtails is to break down the idea that people have to go to high-end places for craft cocktails and quality food. Despite the theatrics, the objective here is accessibility. Drink prices range from $8 to $15, and the most expensive food item is $23.

“You don’t have to spend a ton of money for a great drink or dining experience,” Morales says. “We are not highbrow people. Our goal is to offer that experience at an affordable price.”

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