If you’ve been dying to party it up in a Victorian-era London underground station, now’s your chance. The team behind fan favorite Smuggler’s Cove invites you to explore the wide world of gin at their latest venture, Whitechapel, named after the East London neighborhood famous for its gin production and the prostitute-murdering Jack The Ripper.
[jump] I visited Whitechapel the day after their grand opening, a short line already formed outside the entrance, which I should have expected considering how awesome Smuggler’s Cove is — suffice it to say I wasn't the only one with high expectations. Friendly bouncers moved the line inside quickly, ushering me into a short, velvet-draped hallway that opened up into the grand barrel-ceilinged main room of the U.S.’s largest gin collection.
Everything was transformative, an extremely intentional design element (more noticeable if you ever visited the space’s predecessor, Noble). Entering Whitechapel takes you away to another time and place nowhere near Polk Street or even California. The décor is very carefully thought through, each detail crafted with the overarching theme in mind. Owner Martin Cate described it to me as “not a steampunk bar, but certainly steampunk-friendly.” Even the ADA-compliant wheelchair lift is adorned with pipes and wrought iron motifs. Water-filled lamps, or “ginfusion tubes,” bubbled above patrons’ heads and cemented the feeling of being under the streets of London in a speakeasy gin distillery.
There’s no doubt that Martin and his fellow owners know their way around a drink — Smuggler’s Cove is proof that they truly understand rum. Whitechapel shares a similar relationship with gin, the misjudged liquor with a deeply divided audience. With 120 cocktails, they’ve taken advantage of the complex nature of gin, creating a diverse menu where one drink will be entirely unique from the other. This is unlike tequila, for example, whose cocktails all have that agave flavor to them.
Martin explained to me that, “gin is misunderstood, people think of it at best as sophisticated, and at worst stuffy. We think it’s fun, versatile, flexible, and a little bit like magic in the way it transforms the ingredients it’s mixed with.” I tried four different cocktails — the Dutch Nemesis, the Penny Dreadful, the Cucumber Lavender Sour, and the Pendennis Club. Martin also poured me a shot of their signature gin, aptly named Whitechapel. Each drink tasted distinctly unique with varying levels of spirituous-ness.
Yes, I got extremely drunk, and yes, I had an extremely good time. There are not a lot of places where I would eagerly go to have an all out good time without having to put on airs, but Whitechapel has managed to pull it off.
Whitechapel, 600 Polk, 415-292-5800.