Decorated chef and activist José Andrés has opened his mysterious speakeasy-style bar underneath Jaleo, his River North Spanish restaurant. Pigtail — a portmanteau of pig (Andrés’s favorite ingredient) and cocktail — debuted last week with ibérico ham fat-washed drinks and braised pig’s ears in an intimate basement space at 500 N. Clark Street.
Pigtail is the first casual cocktail bar from Andrés and his team, says Jaleo culinary director Ramon Martinez. The Chicago spot aims to provide a more festive and relaxed atmosphere than the group’s experimental “cocktail lab” Barmini in Washington D.C., drawing diners with playful food and drink, and offering them a place to linger before or after a meal upstairs. The speakeasy vibe is reminiscent of what Andrés’s friend, Rick Bayless, did across the street with Bar Sotono.
Andrés’s fondness for jamón ibérico is well known, and thus provided ample inspiration for bartender Miguel Lancha as he designed cocktails like the ham fat-washed Negroni Cristal (Gin Mare gin, blanc vermouth, Luxardo Bitter Bianco) and Around the World in 80 Days (Del Maguey ibérico, manzanilla, genever, Junmai sake). In a distinct nod to Barmini, staff are also demonstrating technical chops with pig-free drinks like the Nitro-Frozen Pomada (Xoriguer Mahón gin, Kas limón, bergamot) and cocktails featuring various aromatic clouds. Patrons can also find a limited selection of Spanish vermouths, beer, and other spirits.
Naturally, the ham fest continues on Pigtail’s finger food menu from Jaleo chef Justin DePhillips (Jaleo Disney Springs). Pork-friendly diners have lots to choose from, including Orejas Y Morros Fritos (fried pig ears and snouts, rey silo cheese foam) and Tostada de Jamón con Tomate (airbread, tomato espuma, Jamón Ibérico de Bellota).
Despite the very obvious theme, there are some options that don’t include pork. Some bear the hallmarks of Andrés’s other restaurants, including a fried “wonton ‘empanada’” (salt cod, potato espuma, sobrassada honey) that wouldn’t be out of place at his Chinese-Mexican spot in Las Vegas. Others feature fancy upgrades, like the Tortilla Moderna (potato and onion omelette) with an optional Osetra caviar upgrade for $35. Martinez says the team aims to expand the menu over time.
Pigtail’s dim bar space seats around 30 between a six-spot bar, high and low-top tables, and a plush-looking banquette that runs along one wall. Designed by Barcelona-based Capella Garcia Architecture, which has designed many Andrés restaurants, the bar is outfitted with decorative neon loops (meant to resemble a pig’s curly tail), miniature pigs with feathered wings, and moody pink and purple lighting.
Andrés isn’t nearly done with Chicago: he has he has other restaurants in the works, including a collaboration with Gibsons Restaurant Group inside Bank of America’s new headquarters. For now, diners and drinkers can embrace the chef’s penchant for pork at the new basement bar. Explore the space in the photos below.
Pigtail, 500 N. Clark Street, Open 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.