Pigtails Downtown interior | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
Maybe I’ve read The Great Gatsby too many times, but I’m fascinated by the speakeasies of the ’20s and early ’30s — back when bars, liquor and the drinking of liquor were made illegal by the Volstead Act, which, of course, just encouraged people to seek out illegal bars selling illegal liquor, where they could happily drink illegally as long as they did it quietly so as not to alert the coppers.
Modern speakeasies are another thing entirely. They’re never raided by the popo, which eliminates the thrill factor, no question. On the other hand, they sell top-quality liquor — not hooch — yet still maintain the cool slinky style of the forbidden haunts of yore.
That’s certainly the case at Pigtails Downtown, a dimly lit sliver of space entered through a quietly marked glass door that fronts Central Avenue in CityScape. Just inside that glass door (which simply says Pigtails) is an anteroom furnished with nothing but an oyster and shrimp-stocked raw bar and a white swinging door announcing “cocktails” in pink neon.
Push through that door and you find yourself in a wonderfully intimate little hideaway featuring a few booths and a bar that runs almost the length of the room. Your eyes naturally go to the rough-hewn back bar, glittering with liquor bottles and flanked by row upon row of plants, which lend dreamy, tropical ambience to the space.
The cocktails, arranged in four categories — light & citrusy, fun & refreshing, bold & boozy, cool & nerdy — are every bit as evocative. My buddy and I spend a long time narrowing down our choices. Maybe because it’s 111 degrees outside, we both wind up going for something fun and refreshing.
The Nutty Professor | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
Served in an old-school, etched lowball glass, The Nutty Professor ($14) arrives with a sugar-macadamia nut rim that borders on the snackable. Sure, it’s listed as “fun and refreshing,” but this drink has a touch of grown-up complexity— maybe from the walnuts, which lend a faintly bitter quality or the La Gritona tequila, often described as “brooding.” It’s unquestionably nutty though, thanks to sherry (which has a nutty almond or walnut-like quality all its own) and falernum (a liqueur that brings notes of almond, ginger, cloves and allspice, all faintly detectable here). For balance, there’s a bit of lemon and tart-sweet apricot. Is this fun and refreshing? Sure, but I think it could easily fall into the “cool & nerdy” category as well. It’s terrific and decidedly different.
My drink —the Spice Melange ($15) — is unquestionably fun, refreshing and a little tiki. Coconut fat-washed Plantation rum provides silky mouthfeel and a faintly savory base for this spicy, almost heady mix of ginger, cinnamon Demerara (think cinnamon simple syrup made with crunchy, golden Demerara sugar) and turmeric, with a little coconut mix and lemon for good measure. I could drink this gorgeous thing by the gallon. It’s dangerous.
The Spice Melange | Photo by Nikki Buchanan
Just so you know, Pigtails Downtown has a sister craft cocktail bar in Desert Ridge. I wonder if it can be as cool as this one. Both bars are owned by Matt and Katy Fulton and Daniel Caprario, the same people who own The Whining Pig (the craft beer and wine bar with multiple Valley locations) and the recently opened Rough Rider, another cocktail bar in Roosevelt Row.
Bar Manager Ashlee Mahoney tells me that Beverage Director Kyla Hein likes to take an educational approach to cocktails, and to that end, the bar will be offering weekly classes starting September 6. One might focus on how to build a balanced cocktail, while another might home in on various spirits, and those classes might be taught by representatives of local distributors. As it happens, Royce Davidson of 375 Park Avenue Spirits is there on the day of my visit, repping Featherbone Bourbon, an artisanal brand from Michigan. As a former bartender, he says he loves teaching classes about various spirits to customers.
Seems to me you have at least a half dozen good reasons to check this little spot out. I know I have plenty of excuses to return.
Pigtails Downtown, CityScape, 1 E. Washington St., #128, Phoenix, 602-675-4416, pigtailscocktails.com