Here Comes Whitechapel: Martin Cate's Second Act

By Virginia Miller  |  August 7, 2014

Big news in the cocktail world: Martin Cate of Smuggler's Cove is opening a gin-centric restaurant and bar called Whitechapel along with Alex Smith of Novela. Those who have visited Smuggler's Cove have witnessed its exhaustive array of rum, and rum lore. The bar has been nominated for a number of international awards and appeared on countless best-of lists across the U.S. Now Cate and Smith will pour the same level of enthusiasm into Whitechapel. Except this time around, it's all about gin. 

The Details: The aim here is to do for gin what Smuggler's has done for rum — to educate and excite the masses about the spirit's great range. Naturally, you can expect a massive gin selection in a space with good amount of drama. (At Smuggler's much of the tiki paraphernalia comes from a prop studio around Los Angeles.)  Smith worked with Cate at Smuggler's in its early days. They'll team up with Novela managing partner John Park to run the day-to-day of the business. 

Chef, Cocktails & House Gin: The chef is Caleb Jones (20 Spot, Michael Mina, Fifth Floor), who will create shareable plates of British and Dutch-inspired food with some heavy nods to the cuisine of Bangladesh (more on that below). As beverage director, Smith will craft the cocktail menu and the gin collection will run the gamut from rare historic bottlings to Whitechapel's own private label gin distilled at Distillery 209 in San Francisco.

Gin Club: Just like Smuggler's Rumbustion Society, there will be an exclusive gin club called The Polk Street Irregulars — a sort of safe place for hardcore gin tasters.

We caught up with Cate to ask him some of our most burning questions about the new business:

Why gin, why now? This is a golden age for gin.  There are more producers than ever producing a nearly endless variety of styles with top quality ingredients and careful craftsmanship.  And consumers are responding in kind — sales of low quality gins are declining while premium and super premium brands show fantastic growth.  Gin is versatile but challenging to work with in cocktails. Often a great contemporary gin cocktail can succeed or fail depending on the chosen gin. Cocktail ingredients can be accented by select botanicals in gin, or they can clash.  Gin exists both as a base spirit and modifier, so selecting the right gins when crafting the menu is vital.  This is where Alex Smith has a truly gifted hand. As beverage director for Whitechapel, he's really impressed me with his craft.

What can we expect from the design of the space?  I can promise you that the space will be an immersive environment that will speak to gin's storied history while creating a comfortable and convivial atmosphere for people to share in great cocktails and food.  Gin has an unfair reputation as a 'stuffy' spirit, and our menu and space will show that it can be refreshing, complex, and approachable.

Tell us about the cocktail and food menus: The cocktail menu is vast and packed with variety, from classics to super modern.  Guests looking to just relax with friends will find a quick menu of popular choices, and those wishing to dig deep will find a massive but well curated list of classics and rarities. We're really getting excited about Caleb's food, too!  In addition to his great San Francisco resume, he's spent time in the kitchens of contemporary U.K. restaurants.  He's still in mad scientist mode. But we know the foucs will be on lighter and shareable versions of great British and Dutch dishes.  He's also playing with gin botanicals in his food, as well as Bangladeshi spices and dishes, in a nod to the people of the real Whitechapel in London.  I can't wait."

ETA: Whitechapel is expected to open in early winter of 2015.

600 Polk St.