Blithe Spirits

Mother’s ruin or anti-malarial aid? Poor old gin has quite the volatile reputation. Right now, the juniper-based distillate on the upswing, at least in San Francisco: The city’s newest single-spirit bar, Whitechapel, claims to have the largest selection of gins in North America. Though once you’re inside, you’ll swear you’re on the other side of the Atlantic: the interior is a mad mishmash of Victorian gin palace, Jules Vernian bathysphere, and abandoned Tube stop. Owner Martin Cate took a moment to enlighten us.

whitechapel_2015_1328 copy (this main room is called the Platform)

The tiles in the main room look like you pulled them out of an actual Underground station. You didn’t, did you?

M.C.: Those are official licensed reproductions of real London Underground tiles designed by architect Lesley Green in 1908.  They are produced by a company called Fired Earth that makes them to replace broken ones in actual Tube stations.  They were not fun to airfreight from the UK.

whitechapel_2015_0256 copy

Something about the look of the bar reminds us of Sherlock—the Cumberbatch show, that is.

M.C.: Most of the influence came from visiting actual Victorian engineering works in London—bridges, pumping stations, etc. Although the TV shows Peaky Blinders and Penny Dreadful were touchstones as well. And Disney’s 20,000 Leagues had an impact on the design of our distillery space.

whitechapel_2015_0474 copy

Gin does seem to be having its moment in the S.F. sun: both Coqueta and Aatxe have huge G-and-T menus, and now you’ve opened Whitechapel…

M.C.: Gin is definitely on the rise—there are more than 400 craft gins in America alone! And gin is a two part adventure: It first shows the creativity and skill of the distiller in creating a balanced and original blend, and secondly challenges the mixologist to apply these complex flavor profiles into drinks that sing.

whitechapel_2015_0870 copy (this is a...)

whitechapel_2015_0109 copy

All Photos courtesy of Kelly Puleio