On Aug. 26, Gem, the six-year-old, acclaimed seasonal tasting menu restaurant from chef Flynn McGarry closed its doors in the Lower East Side and, in less than a month, those doors will reopen once more — not as Gem, but as Gem Wine.
In early 2022, McGarry opened Gem Wine just around the corner from Gem, originally intending it to be a small, cozy place where diners might stop for a drink before or after a meal at Gem. In the year-and-a-half since then, however, Gem Wine has become so much more. The walk-in-only spot, like many wine bars in New York, has become wildly popular, and it’s not uncommon to see diners waiting outside for a coveted seat at one of its communal cherry wood tables.
For more than a year, McGarry and his team have been plotting to move the wine bar on Broome Street into the Gem space on Forsyth, waiting for just the right opportunity to do it. That time has come, and on Sept. 20, they plan on welcoming New Yorkers to Gem Wine 2.0.
Here’s all you need to know about the new Gem Wine before you go.
1. First things, first: They take reservations.
And the books are open now. The new Gem Wine will have twice as many seats as the original — 42 instead of just 20 — and half of those seats will be reserved for reservations and the other half for walk-ins.
So, for those of you who like to make your dining arrangements ahead of time, rejoice. And for those of you who prefer a bit of spontaneity, or more of that neighborhood hang vibe, do know that it’s still an option. Oh, and Gem Wine 2.0 will also be open seven days a week.
2. With the expansion, McGarry is giving New Yorkers (and his team) what they want.
Gem Wine is one of a number of New York wine bars that have captivated New Yorkers in the past two years. Other popular newcomers include Claud, Place des Fêtes, and Libertine, to name a few. And if you ask McGarry why New Yorkers are so enraptured with wine bars these days, he’ll tell you it all boils down to choice.
“I think that New York right now is in a place where everyone really loves this low barrier of entry: You can go to a place and just have a drink, or you could end up eating dinner, or you could end up just having a snack,” McGarry explains. “It’s a very low commitment, and it’s kind of like a choose-your-own adventure. And with wine bars, it’s different from a cocktail bar because there’s more of a focus on what you’re eating and drinking.”
The original inspiration for Gem Wine came from two well-loved wine bars in Copenhagen: Pompette, where guests are encouraged to pick their own bottle of wine, and the now-closed Manfreds, which was both a wine bar and restaurant that McGarry frequented at least twice a week while he worked abroad. The flexibility of operating a wine bar concept like Pompette or Manfreds, he says, was eye opening.
“At Gem, where we have this set tasting menu, it’s very hard to change things all the time,” he explains. “It’s a whole production. But with the wine bar, I could go to the market and get maybe three cool melons and just put them on the menu and see what happens tonight. We can have a bit more fun with what we’re doing.”
He says that everything at Gem Wine, from the menu to the wine list, is very collaborative, and that the entire staff is equally invested and involved in the end results.
3. The beloved wine wall is gone …
But in its place is an entire cellar. Gem Wine’s collection of natural-minded wines, mainly sourced from France, Austria, and Germany, is also expanding with the move, going from 120 selections to anywhere from 200 to 250. Both McGarry and his sister, Paris, along with sommelier Andi Smith, actively curate the collection.
While Gem Wine tended to specialize in “fun, easy drinking wines” and where Gem used to focus on more hard-to-get, special occasion wines from Jura or Burgundy, McGarry says that the new Gem Wine list will be a blend of both types of offerings. Some wines to look out for include vintages from winemaker Franz Strohmeier, produced in the Styria region of Austria.
He’s also quick to point out that the same service and wine expertise guests relied on at the original Gem Wine will also be found at the new location, too. “I want to create this dynamic where, the way we’ve set up the list and our cellar, and everything, you can just speak to the server, and they’ll be like, ‘I got you,’ and come out with a couple of bottles and talk you through them, the same way we do now.”
4. The look and feel are very much the same as the original Gem Wine …
McGarry describes the décor of Gem Wine as “if a Shaker lived at the beach,” a cheeky nod to the Shaker pegs and quirky antiques that you’ll find dotted throughout. Expect to see many of the same touches at Gem Wine 2.0, as well as those same communal tables with the little table lamps in the middle. And better yet, there’s an actual bar that seats up to eight now, too.
“The layout of the new space is very similar,” McGarry says. “We really wanted it to have an association with what you have over there. We want you to walk in and say, ‘Oh yeah, this does feel like Gem Wine, but a little more beefed up.’”
Some other fun touches in the new space include ceramic fish sconces designed by one of McGarry’s friends, Shane Gabier. He commissioned another friend, Sarah Goldman, to take portraits of people in yellow rain jackets that hang above each table.
We want this to feel like a little community, and it already does in our existing space. And now, [the move] is just a way for the community to get a little bigger.— Flynn McGarry
5. Speaking of those tables, McGarry is taking a very hands-on approach to the new move.
So much so that, as he did at the original Gem Wine, he’s actually building even more cherry wood tables. Look closely enough under the table and you might just find his name carved into the wood.
“At Gem Wine, I built pretty much everything in there myself,” he says, noting that his woodworking hobby has become much more than just a hobby over the past few years. “We’re building everything, from the tables to the bars to every single thing.”
It’s just one more example of how deeply he’s invested in the space, and the overall experience diners will have when they visit.
“We want people to leave our wine bar and hopefully feel like it resonates with them in some way,” McGarry says. “This is a space, you know, that was built by me. We made the light fixtures, and there are so many unique things about it. And the team that’s working here every night, they’ve been here for a few years, and they put together the menu and the wine list. We want this to feel like a little community, and it already does in our existing space. And now, [the move] is just a way for the community to get a little bigger.”
6. The old Gem Wine space isn’t going away entirely.
When Gem Wine reopens in its new digs, its former space will be repurposed as Gem House, a destination for private events and pop-ups. It won’t necessarily be open every day of the week, but it will be open on occasion for scheduled events.
“A huge part of our business [at Gem Wine] has been private events — especially birthday parties, because it’s such a good space for that — but we also want to have a space where we can experiment,” McGarry explains.
Gem Wine as you know it today on Broome Street is also still open for business until Sept. 16; it’ll only be closed for three days later this month before it reopens in the new space on Forsyth.
7. Expect many of the same dishes from before, as well as four nightly specials.
“Our menu will be more expansive than the existing format, but every night we’re going to make four specials that we’re just really excited about, with ingredients that are in season that we can make a few of and really kind of have fun with,” McGarry says.
With the new space, Gem Wine will now have more than just two hot plates to work with, but you can still order yourself some oyster tomatoes (if they’re in season), some nice, thick slices of bread, some preserved anchovies, and a lovely serving of cheese, too.
8. There will be a Gem 2.0, coming soon.
McGarry hasn’t completely abandoned fine dining for wine bars. A new Gem 2.0 is in the works; he’s currently looking for a space. And while details are under wraps for now, he notes everything is “moving along, honestly, slightly faster than we imagine.”
When it opens on 116 Forsyth Street on Sept. 20, Gem Wine will be open daily from 5 to 11 p.m.