The Whining Pig's Desert Ridge Marketplace location is built around a U-shape bar that is stocked with games like a box of That's What She Said cards. Beer, wine and food offerings are posted in chalk. (Photos by Chris Mortenson)

By Connor Dziawura

Someone once called The Whining Pig “the kind of place where you walk in by yourself and leave with 10 friends.”

Owner/operator Daniel Caprario considers it to be one of his favorite reviews.

“To me that’s basically what we want to do,” says Caprario, whose establishment is rapidly expanding throughout the Valley.

“Nobody thinks they want human interaction, but they all really do want it.”

Since the 2013 launch of a 16th Street and Bethany Home Road location— nicknamed “Baby Pig” due to its small size—The Whining Pig has grown to seven locations throughout the Valley, including in Ahwatukee, Arcadia, Gilbert and Scottsdale. Caprario hopes to bring the concept to the West Valley, too.

That concept is simple, he says: “to create a place where it’s almost like you’re drinking at a friend’s house.”

The atmosphere is warm and inviting, with a U-shape bar that Caprario says promotes customer interaction, not only with the bartenders but between each other. It also allows the company to keep the staff small and familiar.

On deck are more than 125 craft beers as well as a large wine selection, much of which rotates regularly. Happy hour runs daily from 1 to 8 p.m.

“Those taps and bottles and cans are rotating every single day,” Caprario explains. “There’s some obvious changes that you’ll see. In the wintertime you might see more stout options (to be) weather appropriate. It’s hard to drink an 11% stout in 110-degree weather, but when it’s nice and crisp outside you’ll start to see more of that. Obviously on the wine side you’ll see more of your red wines, not so many of your white wines and rosés.”

Though beer and wine is the focus, a few food selections are available—just enough to get customers by.

Five grilled cheese sandwiches ($8/$7 happy hour) using Noble Bread stock the menu: The Heart with fig spread, prosciutto and goat cheese; The Peace Sign with pesto, sun-dried tomato and mozzarella; The Ying Yang with cream, American and Swiss cheeses; The Hash Tag with smoked ham and American cheese; and The Star with pepperoni, Sriracha, Italian cheese and cherry peppers. Occasionally there may be seasonal sandwiches, Caprario says.

Meat-and-cheese platters ($14/$13hh) with crackers, apricots, nuts and olives are available, too. However, customers can still bring outside food.

“We always wanted to be a beer and wine bar, but at the same time just having elements of food allows people to stay longer, or just while you’re drinking it’s somewhat responsible as well to have a food option.”

To keep guests interacting and to avoid awkward silences, retro games like Rock’em Sock’em Robots line the bar, taking the focus away from the TVs on the walls. This, Caprario says, makes it perfect for a group of friends or even a first date.

“With the games around the bar and everything, it’s just more style—just light, easygoing,” he says. “Plus, salty meats and cheeses are never bad at a bar.”

A hidden gem

The Whining Pig’s Desert Ridge Marketplace location, in a basement east of Dave and Buster’s, is complemented by a hidden cocktail bar called Pigtails, which opened earlier this year. A second, standalone Pigtails is slated to open in Downtown Phoenix’s CityScape sometime in mid- to late-January, Caprario says.

“When we were coming up with the concept of Pigtails, we knew we wanted to craft cocktails with a little bit more of a menu but we wanted The Whining Pig to still be the inspiration of it,” he explains.

Modeled as a speakeasy, also with a U-shape bar, Pigtails features dim lighting and plant-adorned walls, as well as an exit hidden behind a bookshelf. To get to Pigtails, customers pass through a small hallway in the back of The Whining Pig.xperienbc

Like The Whining Pig, the Pigtails speakeasy at Desert Ridge features a U-shape bar; however, the experience is upgraded, with dim lighting, higher-end booths, plant-adorned walls, an expanded menu and a focus on cocktails.

“We put in nicer leather booths and just upped the ante on everything and create an awesome craft cocktail menu with the awesome bartenders and mixologists that we have there,” Caprario says.

Caprario calls it an “elevated experience.” He and his colleagues have partnered with a local chef on a more expansive menu at the existing and future Pigtails locations.

The menu includes fresh oysters at market price, Cajun shrimp cocktails ($3 each), roasted crab dip ($15), smoked salmón rillette ($14), tuna poke nachos ($15), avocado bruschetta ($9), a cheese flight ($12), a cured meats platter ($13), a chef’s charcuterie board ($22), candied bacon flatbread ($14) and wild mushroom flatbread ($15). Chef’s specials are posted weekly and seasonal changes are possible, Caprario says.

“We tried to make it a little bit more chef driven on that side as opposed to just a single element,” he says.

A new cocktail menu will launch in January.

“It’ll be all-new cocktail creations from us, and then what moving forward we’ll do two to three times a year is revamp our cocktail list,” he says. “We actually have all of our bartenders and mixologists come in and present beverages to us, and from there we taste and work on them all together in terms of presentations and slight adjustments to the beverage and then we, between the managers and the district manager and the owners, choose what drinks we want to hit the next menu.”

The upcoming CityScape location, on Central Avenue beneath a Bank of America, is hidden, too, Caprario says. Patrons will have to pass through a kitchen to get to it.

“I’m from Jersey, so it’s more like that East Coast vibe, where you walk into one place and there’s another place behind it,” he says. “Just giving Downtown Phoenix a big-city vibe that really doesn’t exist yet.”

Poised for growth

Caprario feels positive reception is what has allowed The Whining Pig to so quickly boost its presence in the Valley. He says communities have responded favorably with each new opening.

“When we opened in Gilbert it just took off, and we had such a warm reception from the community and the people just saying how much they were excited to have a place like this,” he recalls. “It didn’t feel cookie cutter. It didn’t feel like another chain just coming in. It was just a couple of local guys opening fun little beer and wine bars with great happy hour and awesome offerings.”

They try to stay in the outskirts and suburbs rather than downtowns, Caprario says.

“We’ve tried to be that neighborhood pub for everybody, from your 21st birthday to your 80th birthday, and give everybody the same service and respect and have fun with everybody,” he notes. “There’s an old English saying that says, ‘Check your degree at the door,’ meaning anybody who walks in here we treat the same and try not to make somebody feel more comfortable than anybody else.”

Caprario is secretive about another new concept he and his colleagues are preparing beyond Pigtails’ CityScape location. But once it’s ready, he clarifies, they will return their attention to The Whining Pig, with the West Valley in their sights.

“We really want to move out into the West Valley,” Caprario says. “When we first went to Gilbert, like I said earlier, people were so excited to just have a place that wasn’t a chain, a place that had a little bit more feeling and vibe to it.

“In our trips out to the West Valley—anywhere from Peoria, Glendale, Surprise—all those places just are rapidly growing with not a lot out there to do. So we’d love the opportunity, and we’ll be focusing on that in the next couple of years.”

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Ahwatukee, 5030 E. Ray Road, 480-248-6969.

Arcadia, 3730 E. Indian School Road, 602-795-9910.

CityScape (Pigtails; opening January), near Central Avenue and Thomas Road, beneath Bank of America.

Desert Ridge (w/Pigtails), 21001 N. Tatum Boulevard, Suites 46-1405, Phoenix, 480-500-5358.

Downtown, 201 E. Washington Street, Unit 104, Phoenix, 602-795-9910.

Gilbert, 2512 S. Val Vista Drive, Gilbert, 480-696-4004.

McDowell Mountain, 10121 E. Bell Road, Suite 110, Scottsdale, 480-361-6890.

Phoenix, 1612 E. Bethany Home Road, Phoenix, 602-633-2134.