Meet the Bartender: Whitechapel Cocktail Bar, San Francisco


Keli Rivers, Whitechapel Bar

whitechapel_2015_0611Meet Keli Rivers, the Whitechapels in house Gin Sommelier, or “Ginnoisseur” as boss man Martin Cate calls her!. She is in charge of the “ginventory” and all things gin from behind the bar. Her knowledge of gin is not to be underestimated and will often be found consulting others in the business on cocktails, and running a Gin Education club for those who wish to learn more etc.I asked Keli for a few insights of what life is like for a busy Gin bar in San Francisco.

(All photos included in this post are by the talented Kelly Pulelo)

The Whitechapel Bar


Whitechapel Bar is one of two bars from the same owners, with each bar dedicated to a spirit. Whitechapel is the Gin member of the family and has over 600 different gins available on the shelves.(Largest in North America) It has a beautiful Victorian London Era style to it with 3 separate rooms, bringing you from a train station platform through to a distillery featuring giant copper pipes, stills, and pots, creating a distinctive “Victorian Gin Palace”. As well as the 100’s of gins on the shelf, ready for the custom made G&T’s. the also have a very handy G&T on tap, premixed using beefeater gin and a local tonic, a virtually unheard option of in Ireland. (so far). The have 2 gin menus, one for your average G&T drinker, and another 19 page gin and cocktail list for the hardcore gin connoisseurs.

Hi Keli, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions! Are there any Gin Distillerys whitechapel_2015_0073in San Francisco?

There are a few iconic gin distilleries here in SF and the surrounding Bay Area. Anchor Distilling which released Junipero in 1996 as one of the first American craft gins to help kick start this revolution we are witnessing currently. No 209 joined the fight along with St. George Distillery shortly there after. 


What makes a great Gin Bartender?whitechapel_2015_1239.jpg

 It isn’t easy being a gin bartender, you have so many botanical skeptics out there and trying to change the minds while giving great hospitality is a fine line to walk. However the end product usually speaks for itself and it is hard to deny the best cocktails are made with gin. 

In your years of experience, did you expect Gin to become so popular again?whitechapel_2015_0128-Edit.jpg

I believe it never went away really, gin was just sitting, waiting for the public to be ready for it. The the major influx of brands it can be very overwhelming to a novice which is why at Whitechapel, we give our guests every possible tool we have to wade through the varieties. We list our gin by style, add spirit base and even list as many botanicals as we know. Our cocktail menu is a historical look at gin cocktails through the ages, if one isn’t to your liking there are 115 others to try, with odds like that it is a Vegas sure bet that you’ll leave a gin lover!

Have you made cocktails for any celebrities?

Whitechapel was created as an escape from the outside world and as such we let our guests do the same. 


When asked for a simple G&T, how do you serve it?whitechapel_2015_0747.jpg

 We have an amazing G&T on draft made with Beefeater and a bespoke tonic syrup created by Small Hand Foods here in SF that is not only delicious but fast and unique.






What is the most popular/requested Gin in America?whitechapel_2015_0724.jpg

This isn’t a simple answer any more. Ask us a few years ago and we could say any of the Big 5, but now it is a question of flavor profile? Spice, Citrus, Floral, Heat, Juniper.



What is the most popular tonic?whitechapel_2015_0749.jpg

We carry 9 tonics and like the 600+ gins we have, each one is unique. Want high carbonation that highlights softer elements in the gin, East Imperial Burma. Want a bitter tinge that brings out floral notes of gin, Betty Janes Hopped Tonic. Like a straight forward tonic like grandma use to drink- Q Tonic is the one for you. 



What is your own favourite gin?whitechapel_2015_1786.jpg

That’s like asking a parent who their favorite child is, they have one but don’t tell.



Do you stock any Irish Gins?

There is only one Irish Gin brought into California- which is Dingle, however we like to travel the globe bringing rare and hard to find gins back and currently have 5 offerings from Ireland.



What is your own favourite cocktail made with gin?

Such a hard choice, it really depends on the day. However I wouldn’t kick a 50/50 martini out of bed for eating crackers.



Does Whitechapel have its own exclusive cocktail?

We have over 20 house cocktails on our menu with rotating specials. You can see all the menu offerings at our website

Can you give our readers a great gin recipe they can try at home?

A quick and refreshing drink would be a personal favorite-

Gilbert’s Melodeon

 1.5 oz Sipsmith Gin

 1 oz lime juice

 .25oz green chartreuse

 .75 oz pineapple gum syrup* (totally worth making and keeping the fridge for other cocktails)

 6 mint leaves

shake together add 1oz soda water and double strain over ice, garnish with mint sprigs

Pineapple Gum Syrup

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1 cup pineapple chunks, plus 2 tablespoons juice

In a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat, combine sugar and water. Stir until dissolved and add pineapple chunks and juice. Bring to a boil and immediately remove from heat. Cover and let sit two hours (if you desire a stronger pineapple flavor, let it sit up to 4). Strain pineapple chunks (use them for garnishes or to top some pancakes). Add gomme and stir to combine. Bottle in an airtight container. Total mixture yields about 2-1/2 cups.


Thanks again Keli! Say hello to all those behinf the bar from all the gin lovers in Ireland!

If you wish to visit Keli and the team next time you are in Sa Fran, you’ll find them here:

600 Polk St,

San Francisco,

CA 94102,


3 thoughts on “Meet the Bartender: Whitechapel Cocktail Bar, San Francisco

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