Gin-centric bar Whitechapel is closing for the season in Civic Center

Gin-centric bar Whitechapel is closing for the season in Civic Center
Photo courtesy of Whitechapel
By Jay Barmann - Published on January 04, 2023.

The days of bars reopening and then closing again appear not to be over, as once-bustling Tenderloin/Civic Center cocktail spot Whitechapel (600 Polk Street) has decided to close temporarily once more due to flagging business — and whether it reopens again sounds like an open question.

"Thanks so much for giving us a holiday season to remember — hope you had a blast celebrating with us," the bar's owners say in an Instagram post. "It was a tough 2022 for us (and 2021..and 2020...), and as you know, it’s been a challenge for hospitality all over San Francisco. Our neighborhood has not rebounded in the way we’d hoped - so many local workers are still remote and nearby offices are barely occupied. Lower Polk businesses have been quiet and hoped-for new residential construction has been slow to be finished. All of which has left us in a sleepy part of town."

In order not to lose more money during the often quieter months of winter, the bar will be closed, the owners say, "through March 2023," during which time it will be available for rentals as an event space, with bar staff and kitchen crew included. (And it is, indeed, a great event space!) 

After that, they say, "we'll see how things are looking."

Hopefully this doesn't spell the end of a great and intricately designed bar — meant to look like a steampunk version of a London Tube station, like its namesake but not precisely — with a stellar gin selection.

Whitechapel opened in the fall of 2015 and spent the next four years as one of the more popular cocktail spots in town — with a menu of British-inspired food as well as great cocktails, and large-format punches. It's a partnership between Smuggler's Cove owner Martin Cate and Novela partners Alex Smith and John Park, and like Smuggler's does with rum and Tiki drinks, it aimed to showcase all things gin. Upon opening, the place boasted 350 brands and varieties of gin, and that collection only grew.

The bar closed for about 18 months during the pandemic — with a brief stint as an outdoor beer/cocktail garden called Barbican in the summer of 2020 — reopening in October 2021, and more recently it had offered a scaled-back cocktail menu with more non-gin options, as well as a scaled-back food menu — via QR-code ordering.

Anyone interested in renting the place for an event in the next three months should email [email protected].