“It took us three tries to get the perfect shade of pink. I think it’s called bubble bath pink.” Ronnie Flynn and Dylan Hales are giving me a tour of Flower Shop, the new bi-level, multi-use bar and restaurant space they are set to open this month in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood with their partner Will Tisch. The pink paint Ronnie is describing was chosen for the brick fireplace, the focal point of the downstairs bar which also sports floral upholstered booths and a pool table. As the Aussie duo shows me the space, I can’t help but feel like I’m hanging out in my best friend’s basement. Every detail seems to have been chosen as carefully as that perfect shade of pink paint to create an atmosphere that truly feels like home.
This may be their first major restaurant venture together, but Ronnie and Dylan are no strangers to the hospitality world. Dylan helped open Ruby’s Cafe, one of the city’s first Australian restaurants before becoming a partner of the Randolph Beer Group. Ronnie is the man behind two of the city’s hottest nightclubs, Never Never Lounge and Up and Down (celebrity clientele includes Drake, Miley Cyrus and Stella Maxwell).
If you’re into food and you live in New York, there’s no denying the sudden surge in Aussie-owned cafes and restaurants. What most of these spots have in common, besides gorgeous food that begs to be Instagrammed and brunch lines to rival a Marc Jacobs sample sale, is good cheer and a laid back vibe that makes you want to linger for hours. The same can be said for Flower Shop, but instead of flat whites and avocado toast, the restaurant will sport a globally influenced menu from Chef Michael Hamilton.
Read the full interview with Ronnie and Dylan below to hear why Flower Shop is exactly what downtown needs and more on their motivations and inspirations for the space.
GV: Tell me about how the concept for Flower Shop came about? People are calling it the anti-club. Was that the intention?
RF: Dylan’s background is bars and restaurants, and I’m from the nightclub and events world. We realized that our generation doesn’t want to wait behind some red rope or put on makeup every night. On the other hand, we wanted to serve dinner but not force people to have to plan or book a table. We wanted something in between that wasn’t necessarily a lounge or club, but not just a restaurant either. We threw what we wanted and what our friends and the community wanted into a hat and sifted through it to see what would make sense. It’s more anti-pretentious than anti-club.
DH: Upstairs will be a regular restaurant and downstairs will be really lively. There’s never going to be DJs or bottle service. It represents the gap in the market for an upbeat multi-faceted venue, but it is primarily about the food and the restaurant for sure.
RF: We’re taking out the elements that exist in nightclubs, like doormen, rotating doors and DJs. It’s going to be juke box music downstairs sand anyone can come hang out. It doesn’t matter if you’re cool or not. When there’s different age groups coming in here, that’s what makes it more interesting. We want all different walks of life coming in here eating, talking, drinking, and playing games.
GV: So you guys are going for that really homey vibe.
DH: We kept thinking about Cheers and achieving that “everybody knows your name” thing. Hopefully you can go downstairs and have a couple drinks and play pool with friends and then bring your girlfriend the next night for a three course dinner. We want you to use this space like it’s your own home and take whatever you want from it.
GV: The whole multi-use bar and restaurant concept has really taken off in Brooklyn, specifically Williamsburg. Why did you decide to open up in Chinatown?
DH: We looked in Bushwick, Williamsburg, the East Village and all over the place, but we’re really happy with this. We felt like this part of Chinatown was a fringe neighborhood, so we could really control the atmosphere and clientele. We wanted to make it a destination and draw people down here.
RF: It’s a blank canvas out here so we stand out a bit. This is real deal Chinatown. There’s a place across the street that fills a van with live frogs every day. We love the uniqueness of this location, so we just went with it and let that dictate the design and concept of Flower Shop. It’s a little bit more free down here too, so we felt like we could do whatever we wanted. It really was a mix between an accident and a blessing.
DH: The physical space is more important to us than the location. We thought we would just get a great spot and then figure out how to get the people there.
GV: How involved were you both in developing the menu? What was your approach in deciding what kind of food to serve.
DH: We have an amazing chef who is more qualified than what we need. He goes off on different tangents and we’re always having to bring him back in and stick to a certain idea for this place. We thought the mix was very important. There’s a balance between different cuisines and plenty of options for carnivores and vegetarians.
RF: We had to get rid of our egos and just figure out what the people wanted. Just based on seasonality the menu has changed four times since we started the concept. It’s continuously evolving.
GV: Backing up a bit, how did you guys meet and what ultimately brought you together to open Flower Shop?
DH: We actually went to school together. Him and I were about to launch an Australian cafe before we started this. When we began to look for locations for that cafe we started having conversations about the Flower Shop concept and we just ended up going with that first.
RF: The cafe and food culture in Australia is amazing. It’s difficult for people to have that here because they don’t have the produce we have over there. We have a lot of ideas, but we thought we would do the bar and restaurant thing and then eventually work backwards to find breakfast.
GV: What are some of your other favorite spots in the city?
DH: I like Lucien in the East Village and Marlow and Sons and Diner in Williamsburg.
RF: Definitely The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn for great wine and snacks. We want to do a serious wine program here with a natural wine list like that.
GV: What do you think about the sudden obsession with Australian coffee and cafe culture in New York City? It seems like a new spot opens every month.
RF: We’re all for it. I came here twelve years ago and it wasn’t a kitschy thing to be Australian and open a place. Nobody was doing it. I found Ruby’s when they first built it and it was the first Australian place in the city I knew. The way we are as Australians is that we build a community around one place. Our culture is all about sticking together and of course, at the end of the day, drinking and eating. We’re all connected in one way or another. Everyone has each other’s backs.
GV: It’s so tough out there for new restaurants and bars, especially in New York. What are some words of wisdom or advice you would give to aspiring bar or restaurant owners? What are some things you guys wish you knew when you were starting out?
RF: Be patient and leave your ego at the door. You have to realize you’re going to be dealing with all kinds of people and personalities so you need to enjoy problem solving and working with people. That’s the most important thing.
DH: Just be excited and ready to get your hands in everything. You’re going to be down there doing the worst of the worst jobs sometimes. People tend to think they’re going to be sitting at the bar high-fiving their friends behind the register all day, and it doesn’t really work that way.
RF: It’s a balance of mini devastations and mini victories every day. The real advice is to roll up your sleeves and work with and for other people first. You’ll learn from everyone else’s mistakes and you’ll get to experience how they deal with it. For me, that’s been very important because I’m not trained in this restaurant thing. I trained myself by working for all kinds of people before I graduated to this. In a nutshell, get out there and learn.
Reserve your dinner reservations at The Flower Shop now!
All images credit: Aaron Austin