Jen Pelka is the owner of the Riddler, a top-rated Champagne bar in San Francisco. This month, her second outpost opens in the West Village. The bar is notable for being entirely funded by women (it has 33 investors, all of them female) and for its insistence on serving Champagne in wineglasses, which, says Pelka, allows imbibers to experience all of the different aromatic notes.
If juggling two wine bars across the country wasn’t enough work, Pelka is also the founder of Magnum PR, a leading restaurant public relations agency in San Francisco with clients like Sweetgreen and Shake Shack. She began her career working for chef Daniel Boulud and also spent time at OpenTable, Gilt Taste, and Tumblr before striking out on her own.
Since the Riddler New York was still under construction, we caught up with Pelka at the Marlton, a space she frequents for meetings. Read on to hear about her favorite red lipstick, the chic laptop bag she brings to meetings, and how her style evolved from shopping in the Gap sales aisles.
On the shoes she wears every day: When I’m running around town, I’m in a black jumpsuit with sneakers. Some of my favorites include my custom white leather Converse chucks. They have the inscription “Une Femme,” which is the Champagne brand I’m launching this fall with my brother. I also love Nike iD, and I make a new pair whenever my old ones wear out. It’s a great use of $65! And if I’m on the floor of the restaurant, I’ll wear black flats — loafers, mules, or Chelsea boots.
On going out after work: I’ll swap my sneakers for a pair of heels and add a red lip. As for lipsticks, I’ve tried them all, and Make Up Forever’s True Red is the best. It’s a beautiful color, stays on all day, and never dries my lips out. Literally every time I wear this lipstick, someone will stop me and ask what I’m wearing!
On what she wears to big meetings: You’ll find me in a black dress with a black leather jacket. I usually have a few jackets in rotation and I’m currently obsessed with this cropped Veda one worn over this Mara Hoffman dress. Then I’ll add on statement heels and my go to bag by Clare V. It’s the perfect size for my laptop and looks so chic. I have two — one in black snakeskin, and another in black calfskin. And of course, I’ll add on a red lip.
On her uniform: You’ll often see me wearing black on black in the form of dresses or jumpsuits by the likes of Prabal Gurung, Rachel Comey, or Oak & Fort. And then I’ll add color via my shoes or bag. I’m also fond of a red lip with red nails. As far as jewelry goes, my Cartier tank watch is always on my wrist. My husband gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago.
On drinking Champagne: At the Riddler, we prefer drinking our Champagne and sparkling wines like any wine — out of a wineglass, so we can swirl them, get a sense of the aromatics, and really explore the complexities of the wine. When you travel to Champagne, you see that all of the winemakers drink their Champagne out of wineglasses, not flutes. The CEO of Krug, Maggie Enriquez, told me that drinking Champagne out of flutes was like listening to a symphony with earplugs in: You can only sense the loudest notes. But we’re not snobs! If you’re joining us and prefer the flair of flutes, just ask your server. We have a few on hand for those who prefer it. We also have delicate Zalto Burgundy stems and elegant hand-cut Belarusian crystal coupes.
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On the Riddler’s decor: My bar’s a direct reflection of my personal style. The color palette is all about black and brass, with touches of vintage mixed metals throughout. Our banquettes were made by a team that constructs furniture for the likes of Chanel and Louis Vuitton. We bought a set of long booths and reupholstered them in a rich vintage black leather. Our
bathroom is modeled after my dream residential bathroom — you’ll see black walls, black molding, a black ceiling, and black furniture, plus Byredo soap and candles.
Our team will be wearing dark-gray French-style Tillit work jackets with black jeans and black Chelsea boots. The women can wear a red lip and red nails. So, yeah, it’s very me!
On who she dresses for: During the day, my wardrobe is all about function: I need to get shit done and that’s why I wear sneakers. I can’t even imagine running around town in heels during the day. But at night, I’m more dressed up. I think of myself as an embodiment of my brand, and I’ve got to look the part.
On how her style has evolved: I’ve tried to move away from fast fashion and into investment pieces. I grew up as a T.J. Maxx scavenger and a Gap sale-aisle girl, so it took me a long time to come around to the philosophy of “fewer, better things.” I now think about how things will fit into my wardrobe and extend my style for a long time.
On the last three things she bought: These Paige gunmetal gray loafers. I’m wearing them to the opening of Pace Gallery. I also picked up a white Mara Hoffman coat and gold Gorjana necklaces that I can layer.
On what she wears to look impressive: I have two vintage fur pieces that I absolutely love and reserve for very special nights out. One is a black opera coat with a fox collar that I bought at an estate sale, and the other is a brown-and-black mink stole from the Alameda Flea Market in California. There’s nothing I love more than stepping out of a cab into a snowy winter night in one of them. It always feels like a scene from a movie, and is the exact feeling I love about being in New York.
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