- interview by Sara Gorelick
Nopa in San Francisco has been hailed as one of the best restaurants in San Francisco by both local and national publications. The San Francisco Chronicle, 7x7 Magazine, USA Today, New York Times and San Francisco Examiner have all sang Nopa's praises (just to name a few), and those rave reviews have helped to really propel the establishment into a renowned hotspot. Aside from the delicious fare, bar manager Neyah White is to thank for the huge recognition. "Not only are we a neighborhood restaurant, but we have a great industry following," he said.
Neyah loves making cocktails to match his guests. He calls himself a bartender as opposed to mixologist. "I am a bartender. Mixologists serve cocktails, bartenders serve people." Personal attention is very important to him. "I love my bar because of the guests," Neyah said fondly. "The best part of my job is making custom drinks for guests on the fly. I don't record the recipes, I like them to be little pieces that exist for a few sips, and then they are gone." And for the brief moments that they exist, little pieces of heaven are what his cocktails are.
Neyah began bartending 15 years ago and his talent has taken him all over the world, from his start in Maryland to Mexico to Prague and finally to California. And what originally got him into the field? "My mother was a pastry chef, and I went to work in the same kitchen when I was 16," he said. "I have never been able to get away from culinary things since then."
Sticking to culinary themes and paying close attention to his customers are facets of what Neyah is enjoying these days behind the bar. He is really digging how spirits are evolving. "I think the Renaissance that we have been seeing in American craft distilling is amazing," he said. "All the new whiskies that are coming out are a blast to work with." But what can't Neyah live without behind his bar? "Fresh vermouth...it is an incredible tool that is seriously misunderstood."
These days, Neyah's program is renowned for the different ingredients he makes behind the bar. You can also follow his adventures on his blog.
The next time you are in San Francisco, stop by Nopa and visit Neyah White. He will make you a drink that you will love, aimed at pleasing your palate.