One of the strange appropriations of the early 20th-century involved using old tavern signs and names for distinctly non-alcoholic eateries, often tea rooms or confectionery restaurants appealing primarily to middle-class women. One of these was the Pig’n Whistle chain which began in California in 1908.
The name originated with ancient British taverns. Many believe that “whistle” was a corruption of wassail, an alcoholic concoction drunk from a small bowl or cup called a “pig.” But an early advertisement for Pig’n Whistle (shown below) gives no suggestion that patrons could get anything stronger than a cup of tea.
Although there is some disagreement about whether Pig’n Whistle started in San Francisco or Los Angeles, it seems likely that the first one was opened in San Francisco by Frank L. Callebotta, in 1908, perhaps growing out of a candy store he established earlier. In 1912 there was one unit in downtown San Francisco and another in the H. C. Capwell department store in Oakland. [top of page: early view of a window at the Oakland Pig’n Whistle, from the collection of Albert E. Norman]
By December of 1908 there was a store in Los Angeles, the city that was destined to become the chain’s headquarters. In 1914 the third LA Pig’n Whistle opened on South Broadway with an ivory baked enamel front displaying the trademark fife-playing pig which also decorated interior walls. In 1916 Pig’n Whistle was known for hanging original artworks on the walls, a custom it would continue into the 1930s. Patrons liked the idea so much they asked to be seated in booths where their favorite paintings appeared.
In 1926 the chain made a public stock offering and began an expansion drive. It absorbed Melody Lane restaurants in Los Angeles and Ennor’s in Berkeley. By 1929 it had opened its 20th store and had restaurants in Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Pasadena, Hollywood, and Los Angeles, including one planned for Grauman’s Egyptian Theater. It acquired the Mary Louise Tea Rooms as part of its Elite Catering subsidiary. Operating three factories, it made its own baked goods, candy, and ice cream. In 1931 passengers traveling on Transcontinental-Western Air, Inc. out of LA and San Francisco had lunches furnished by Pig’n Whistle.
Pig’n Whistles made a specialty of appealing to children and created menus and booklets for them. Although the restaurants were casual, they were also considered refined and somewhat elegant. Menus were elaborate even though prices were moderate. In 1934 it was possible to order a “De Luxe” six-course dinner for $1.00 that included dishes such as “Braised Saddle of Rabbit, Chasseur” and “Grilled Boned Loin of Spring Lamb” with fresh mushrooms and mint jelly. The dinner came with additional courses and accompaniments such as seafood cocktail, soup, spaghetti, avocado salad, and asparagus Hollandaise. To finish, there were 23 desserts to select from.
Profits declined in the 1950s and the chain shrunk. In 1952 it was reduced to five locations in LA and Hollywood, and one each in Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Long Beach, and San Diego. When an Illinois corporation, King Kastle, bought the company in 1968 there were only three units remaining, all in Los Angeles. King Kastle planned renovations and expansion but I don’t think they materialized.
Coming full circle, the name Pig’n Whistle can now be found on several drinking places around the country, as well as one of the original units at 6714 Hollywood Blvd. (interior pictured above) which has been restored and is operated as a restaurant.
© Jan Whitaker, 2011
40 responses to “Famous in its day: Pig’n Whistle”
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I just talked to my 89 year old brother who remembers the P & W in Ontario when he visited the Dionne Quints. He thinks it was 1937. The girls were 2 he, about 6.
My parents met in Memphis, TN during World War II at a dance, perhaps one sponsored by the USO. After the dance, my father asked my mother if she would like to go to the Pig ‘n Whistle for a glass of buttermilk. I am curious if you have a menu from 1943/1944 from there showing buttermilk?
They were married about 5 months later. My father landed at D+1 on Omaha beach and wrote home to her every day. When she died, my sister was given the letters. Wow, what a treasure we never knew about. We are in the process of transcribing the letters and writing a book around his journey.
Thank you in advance.
You are fortunate to have your father’s letters. I have a Pig ‘n Whistle menu from 1932 and it does have buttermilk on it. I think it’s safe to assume it would still be on menus in the 1940s because buttermilk was still a relatively popular beverage then, as compared with now.
Thank you for such a fast reply, you are amazing. Is there a procedure to get a digital copy of that menu emailed to me? I am not super tech savvy but think of several ideas: take picture using phone/tablet/digital camera or equivalent, scan it, post it to a cloud that would be accessible to me or a better method you are aware of. Here is a link to an article written about the restaurant in Memphis. I assume it was not part of the chain you described but it is a neat looking place that had lots of celebrities hanging out there.
Actually the P&W menu I have is from California so it probably had no connection with the one in Memphis. But buttermilk was quite common on lunchroom or lunchcounter type menus in the 1940s, so there’s no reason to doubt that your mother could have ordered it.
Does anyone know if there was a Pig & Whistle on the corner of Wilshire and Western in 1947?
Mom says she meet my Dad at the Pig & Whistle, she could have the streets wrong?
That said I know they had multiple locations back in 1947! Just asking!
In my notes I have all the addresses in 1952 and one of them was 9454 Wilshire, Beverly Hills. Not sure if that is the address you are looking for.
This is the area around where the Wiltern Theater would be built. I believe there was a Melody Lane complex in this area earlier on, and you have noted the absorption of this group by P&W. The answer may lie in that somehow.
Me and my sweet lady Meli love the Pig N Whistle… we have fond memories taking our buddy Max Gears there while filming his first music video called “Hollywood Wanna be”! What a wonderful adventure it was going to all of the locations in Hollywood to film…and ending up at the Pig N Whistle to see our dear friend Jason Zaman who manages it in the evenings. We were returning from a full winter in the South Pacific.
I was doing some research on my Azorean Portuguese De Fount family and this came up. I thought you might like it: According to the U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Geo (George) L. De Fount’s residence year is 1913. His street address is 858 Mead Avenue. His residence place is Oakland; Alameda, California, USA. His occupation is listed as a manager (mngr) at Capwell’s Roof Garden Pig & Whistle. Publication title: Oakland, California, City Directory, 1913.
I remember Pig’n Whistle in San Francisco in the 1940’s. Each year I went with my Grandmother to downtown San Francisco where I saw Santa Claus at the Emporium with its big window displays of winter scenes. Then we went to Pig ‘n Whistle for lunch. There were lots of kids there with their mothers or grandmothers and we all had pig masks to put over our faces. Imagine a restaurant full of kids wearing pig masks!
I can picture it — and I love it!
Apparently the P&W and Melody Lane are tied to the founder of the Hody’s chain. Were P&W’s franchised? Did the Hollywood addresses match conversions to Hody’s?
I don’t know for sure if Pig ‘n’ Whistle was franchised, though I don’t think so. Sidney Hoedemaker was president and co-owner of the 20-unit chain in the late 20s. He sold his interest in 1947 and in 1949 started the Hody’s chain, so they were separate. In 1963 there were seven full-service Hody’s and 2 that were self service. One of the full-service restaurants was at 6301 Hollywood Blvd. and there was one in North Hollywood at 6006 Lankershim.
A few years late, but Thank You for the informative reply.
Hello, I have an old postcard of Ye Pig and Whistle Inn on 175 West 4th Street, NYC. My mother lived in the building in 1925-1928.do you have more NYC history of Pig nWhistle!
The NYC Pig n Whistle was entirely separate from the California chain and was part of the 1920s Greenwich Village scene.
You can catch a brief glimpse of the W 4th St NYC Pig ‘n Whistle in the 1949 film Caught (dir. Max Ophuls) at around 35 min.
No relation to the old chain of restaurants, but the Pig and Whistle in Melbourne, FL has the feel of a rowdy Brit pub, especially on Tuesday nites, when Haddock Special at $8.95 ($12.95 if you want it grilled instead of deep fried) draws huge crowds.
I live in Brighton, MA and down the road from my house is a shuttered Pig n Whistle diner! I’m shocked that this is a Cali thing and wonder if it’s related? I also desperately wish someone would reopen it before it gets torn down for luxury condos.
I’d be 99% sure it’s not related to the old CA chain. The name has a long history going back to Colonial tavern days.
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I walked off Hollywood blvd. into pig n whistle asking for a job. I was 15 yrs. old in 1943 and I was given a apron at 50 cents an hour. Plus my meals. It was the best food ever. I wish I could turn back time. I worked there till I was 17 just for the food and the exciting people that worked and the customers.
When I was growing up, my family and I lived in Altadena from 1944-46, and sometimes ate Sunday dinner at the Pign’n Whistle in Pasadena. We also sometimes ate at a cafeteria on Colorado Blvd., whose name I can’t remember.
I have a near mint menu from the Pig’n Whistle restaurant from 33 Powell Street. San Francisco. Dated Saturday September 30, 1939.
Can you email a picture of your menu? Our Dad grew up in SF and has a lot of memories from there before enlisting in the Navy for WWll. Thanks.
I grew up in Los Angeles in the 40s and 50s. There was a great drive in at Western & Wilshire, across from the Wiltern theatre, Pig n Whistle and Melody Lane. It was a special occasion when my folks took us kids to the drive in and got sundaes. It was always crowded, and the sundaes were spectacular. In the late 60s a big high-rise was constructed on the site. So many memories.
If we went to a movie in downtown Los Angeles, my mom always took me to the “Pig” as it was called sometimes. They gave the kids little pig all day suckers. Most of my friends who grew up in Hollywood during the 30’s and 40’s have fond memories of the Pig N Whistle.
There was a Pig N Whistle in Memphis, TN up until the 1970s. It had terrific BBQ and the world’s best French Fries. Waiters in white coats, black bow ties, and black trousers would come to your car in the parking lot and take your order. The interior and exterior of the building looked like an old English tavern. High school kids in fraternities and sororities like to go there, especially from Central High School. If anyone knows their recipe for BBQ saudce, I would love to have it. Send it to me on Facebook. Thanks, Michael DeArmey.
i remember the chicken pot pie the best. it was my mom’s favorite. we had it at the restaurant near union square in san francisco…WWII era.
As I recall from a LONG time ago, my mother and I ate chicken pot pie in an upstairs part of the restaurant…if I’m remembering correctly. We always took
a table by the windows overlooking a north-south running in the hub of downtown.
The name originated with ancient British taverns. Many believe that “whistle” was a corruption of wassail, an alcoholic concoction drunk from a small bowl or cup called a “pig.”
I can really see the connection with this. The bowls or cups could have been made from Pygg – Pygg was a type of earthenware clay used in England around the 15th century. So Pygg and wassail=pig and whistle.
That makes sense. Thanks!
I can’t thank you enough for your blog! You focus on some intriguing niches that are too often overlooked by social historians, and you do excellent research, to boot. I teach history to adolescents; your material has enlivened many lessons and increased my students’ sense of connection to the past. Keep up the great work!
Thank you! Glad to hear it.