Gather bartender Dan Sheel takes great pride in creating cocktails at his Berkeley bar. (Courtesy Emily Hayward)

Gather bartender makes cocktail craft his life’s work

Berkeley-based Gather has defined its own niche, taking locavore, organic and farm-to-fork concepts to their logical extremes, using foraged ingredients such as flowers, mushrooms and pollen to complement everything from heirloom vegetables to meat from whole animals, butchered in-house.

While Gather’s bar is designed to complement the dining experience, and is not exactly a neighborhood hangout, bar manager Dan Sheel curates a cocktail menu that reflects the food’s grassroots originality. Born in South Korea and raised by adoptive parents in the United States, Sheel discovered his love for the restaurant industry while working his way through college at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he earned a degree in industrial design.

Did growing up as a Korean-American with white parents create any issues for you? It never really became an issue. I was 3 years old when I first knew I was adopted. I was the odd man out, though. I grew up in a Catholic family with no Asians in the neighborhood. When I went to high school in Wellington, Fla,, there were about 11 Asians in the whole school. I could probably still name all of them to this day.

Industrial design, that’s about creating the look, feel and utility of everyday products that we all interact with, right? Yes, we like to joke that architects design buildings while we fill them with all the junk.

Why did you choose to pursue hospitality over industrial design? I did some freelance design work, but doing it as an occupation took the lifeblood out of me. Meanwhile, I’d been working full-time in restaurants while at Georgia Tech, and found out I liked it. I work in this industry because I love being in a restaurant and doing what we do. I’ve held every position, from high-volume to fine dining.

How would you describe Gather’s drink selection? We want to offer something everyone can relate to — wildly approachable, but still maintaining a level of craft and intrigue. But Gather is a restaurant before it’s a bar. What we’re trying to put out there now is food-friendly cocktails, something you can drink at the start of your visit through the end of the meal.

What would be a good example of one of your signature cocktails? My favorite is the Northern Exposure. It’s based on Bank Note, which is a nice blended Scotch whisky, and not overly smoky. We make our own simple syrup by infusing maple syrup with Earl Grey black tea. This drink is essentially a sour, with a little bit of egg white and lemon juice, half of what’s normally called for, just for viscosity, and a little bit of bitters. It’s shaken and served in a coupe glass, and you get a little bit of the smoke on the nose, then it’s lean and tart, then the sweetness hits you, then you’re left with the bittering Earl Grey.

Given that your bar doesn’t have a lot of space for guests to be standing around and mingling, does most of your business come from people grabbing a quick drink before dinner? Most of our bar patrons are actually dining with us at the bar.

How do you spend your time when you’re not running the bar? I have a beautiful dog and we try to get outside as much as we can.

But what about hobbies or other interests? I do this full time. This is more than a job — it’s my life.

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