Elliott Gillespie’s long-held dream of opening a luxurious retro whiskey tasting room on San Francisco’s Treasure Island is almost a reality.
The president of Gold Bar Whiskey confirmed with The Standard that the brand’s tasting room will debut next month in the island’s historic Administration Building.
The Gold Bar Distillery on Treasure Island will take up residence alongside Woods Island Club’s beer & wine tap room and the Treasure Island Museum in the semicircular 1930s hall with historic ties to Pan American Airways, the airline that remains synonymous with the age of luxury air travel, even though it went out of business in 1991.
Constructed in 1938 for the Golden Gate International Exposition, the Administration Building served as a naval headquarters and also as a terminal for Pan Am’s China Clipper long-distance flying boats, which flew to island locales across the Pacific during the 1930s. The building also played a Berlin airport in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
Gillespie hopes the art deco-style bar takes whiskey lovers back to a time when air travel was glamorous.
“Imagine air travel back then. You were boarding a clipper. You were flying, to Hawaii, then to Midway to Guam, then to Manila and then to Hong Kong,” Gillespie said. “It was a first-class experience, white tablecloth. It was not like air travel today.”
To evoke that pre-World War II elegance, Gillespie worked with local architect Steven Hall to repurpose vintage decor and create bespoke interiors that speak to the building’s art moderne architecture, a streamlined sister to art deco.
Hand-silk-screened wallpaper made in Los Angeles pays tribute to Depression-era jazz clubs, and the bar will be lit by pendant lights from the period that were taken from a decommissioned building on the island. Gold Bar’s signature whiskeys in bottles shaped like solid gold bars cover one wall. They go for $39.99 to $52.99 per bottle on the company’s website and come with a solid brass collector’s grade “Lady of Fortune” pressed into the glass.
Gillespie maintains that the World’s Fair Treasure Island Cocktail follows the same recipe as the 35-cent drink served at the 1939 Golden Gate International Exhibition, with a mixture of gin, sloe gin, lemon and a spoonful of sugar. Flights of the brand’s signature whiskies, aged in Napa Valley wine barrels, along with whiskey-based cocktails, will also be available.
The menu is also in keeping with the theme, featuring a World’s Fair-inspired “Millionaire” gluten-free corn dog stuffed with crab and lobster meat and served with an assortment of mustards; steamed soup dumplings that take a page from Pan Am Clippers’ in-flight menu; and a Gold Bar Whiskey-infused soft-serve ice cream cone dessert topped with 24-karat edible gold leaf.
A waffle iron-grilled cheese sandwich references the round shape of Gold Bar’s “Lady of Fortune” coin and the waffle iron that is said to have kept artist Diego Rivera and his assistants warm as they worked on his Pan American Unity mural on Treasure Island following the world’s fair.
The tasting room will have indoor and outdoor seating and can accommodate approximately 50 people. The hours are still being finalized. With about two weeks of construction still ahead, he expects it to open around Sept. 1, becoming the second spot on Treasure Island where imbibers can sample Gold Bar Whiskey.
An outdoor sipping space at Mersea, another eatery on the island, serves the brand’s spirits out of one of its signature shipping containers. The brand has also released a series of San Francisco 49ers-themed commemorative bottles honoring some of the team’s most memorable moments and players.
Gillespie said he has had his eye on the historic structure since he first stepped foot on Treasure Island more than a decade ago. He quit his job in finance in 2016 to build the luxury whiskey brand. Earlier plans to open a Gold Bar Whiskey tasting room on the island were scrapped due to the pandemic.
“It’s really just started with a passion,” he said.
📍1 Avenue of the Palms, STE 167, Treasure Island
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