Cool, intellectual cafe with the cutest, angelic face (a 19-year-old ahead of his time) behind the coffee bar. This isn’t a coffee shop–it’s a home away from home for neighborhood folk. And it’s soon to be a staple destination for a living-room-coffee experience.
Woody Allen immortalized cafe society in two films (Midnight in Paris and Cafe Society, respectively), but I’d call Gem our modern rendition of these two creative social spheres. Essentially, I can envision F. Scott Fitzgerald hanging out at this sort of place. Only he’d be drinking a sustainably sourced coffee instead of a gin rickey.
Whether you’re a fan of existentialism or not, Gem is truly a gem of a find on Manhattan’s Lower East. Owned and operated by 19-year-old culinary prodigy Flynn McGarry, hailed by The New York Times as “The Justin Bieber of Food,” if you’re in the Big Apple, you’ll recognize the famed baby face who graced the cover of New York Times Magazine when he was only 15. A frequent hoster of pop-up supper clubs, Flynn is finally flying solo at this brick and mortar.
Gem touts two experiences in one: The Living Room for an ever-changing coffee menu curated from small-batch roasters, homemade pastries (offerings in the menu breakdown), uncommon tea blends, snacks and an artsy scene; and The Dining Room for a 12-course menu that seats 16 guests twice a night. Reservations are necessary. (Note: This review is solely for The Living Room.)
The Living Room opened as Flynn’s interpretation of a neighborhood hang out, designed for regulars to stop in for morning java and philosophical conversations (steer clear all those falling down the social media rabbit hole).
Money Score: Excellent
For $3 for a 12-oz. coffee, the price point is on par with Starbucks, and the sourcing is far superior. Baked goods on the menu were also justly priced.
Consciousness Score: Excellent
You come here for excellent, single-origin blends from local producers, hand-selected for their partnership with the Gem Manager. It’s fair trade/grassroots gone bespoke, and those making it will receive a fair wage.
‘All the Feels’ Score, The Living Room: Excellent
Industrial retro, thanks to the brainwork of Flynn’s architect/interior designer friend Brett Robinson. Black-and-white are always en vogue, and this chic color scheme is throughout the 18-seat space. The yellow, black, and white palette extends to the bathroom, as did the offbeat, dry humor (under the mirror, read: “No smoking, including electronic cigarettes.”).
The atmospheric, alluringly dark, yet jazzy beats of the Portishead Spotify list? The ideal soundtrack to this cool-kid joint. The ethos is exhibited in its staff members. They’re less interested in you actually buying the food and coffee. You come back because of the conversation (you’ll certainly bump into the intellectual crowd).
Outside, a minimalist, and rather nondescript storefront will draw in curious onlookers. Inside, warm, wine-toned oriental rugs add a splash of color to honey-toned floors and mod, identically hued seating.
Low steel tables add a sleek yet technologic, 1970s feel. It’s like visiting a stylish vintage warehouse with exposed white walls, live plants in rustic, hand-thrown ceramic pots by Phill Kimo Kim (the first in the city!) and all. Side note: the PKK brand is uber hip on the West Coast in L.A., and they are certainly working here. The walls are similarly lined with black-and-white drawings and photography. Natural light is emitted through portrait windows filling the doorway. Inside, golden lights extend from the crown-molding lined, checker-patterned ceiling, nicely illuminating the space.
The Living Room highlight is its rotating menu of medium-roast coffee that puts local custom roasts at center stage.
Loose-leaf tea comes in your own personal glass pot, steeped and timed to perfection, while evading any of that nasty paper taste from a tea bag.
Right now, their food menu is rather limited: pastries made in house, including a blueberry violet muffin with plump plum-toned berries (what dreams are made of!), flaky croissants that whisk you away to Paris and sweet potato bread topped with pumpkin seeds that looked like little green gems on top of the cake. And who wouldn’t want to hang out in a place serving thick slices of coffee cake iced in white and sprinkled with red rose petals resembling red chili flakes? It’s only a shame we can’t ask F.Scott Fitzgerald …