Gem Wine NYC: 8 Design Lessons from a 25-Year-Old Star Chef’s DIY Restaurant Makeover

Precocious doesn’t begin to cover it. At 25, Flynn McGarry has been dazzling people with his cooking for more than half his life. And he’s been the owner of Gem, an inventive downtown New York tasting restaurant, since he was 19 (actually, his first place was a pop-up called Eureka that he established in his family’s LA dining room when he was in middle school and relocated to NYC at 16).

Flynn says he’s now ready for a new New York restaurant. And while that’s in the planning/investment-procuring stages, he decided to turn Gem into a wine bar (and to keep his existing wine bar around the corner as an event space).

Gem’s new guise called for a new look. And to make that affordable, Flynn took on the designing and much of the labor himself. After all, he initially learned his trade by working his way through cookbooks from Noma, Alinea, and The French Laundry (the latter was his requested birthday present when he was 11—“I read it like a page-turning mystery”). And while studying the recipes of these high flyers, he also started developing his own design sense.

Not surprisingly, Flynn turns out to have a knack for working with ingredients that aren’t edible. Over the course of two very busy weeks in late August, much of the existing restaurant was put in storage and Flynn and two friends, who happened to have time if not carpentry skills, created Gem Wine. Starting with the decorative fish at the entry, it’s filled with winning, simple approaches worth adopting in your own quarters. Here, eight good ideas from Flynn.

Photography by Sean Davidson unless noted, courtesy of Gem Wine (

1. Adopt a sunny outlook.

the wine bar is on a humble lower east side block that’s mainly res 14
Above: The wine bar is on a humble Lower East Side block that’s mainly residential. To make his establishment stand out, Flynn painted the exterior a welcoming yellow with striped awnings and a hand-painted sign. Those are vintage French school stacking stools out front. Flynn keeps a set of World of Interiors from the 1990s that he turns to for design lessons and inspiration.

2. Build a room around a few compelling ingredients.

the previous setup had white walls, round metal tables, and a shou sugi ban div 15
Above: The previous setup had white walls, round metal tables, and a shou sugi ban divider off the entry (scroll to the end to see the difference). Flynn approached the makeover with a few things he loves—a rope fish of unknown provenance from the Brimfield flea market (he attends every May and September), six small paintings commissioned from a friend, and some vintage ship models bought after going to a sailing club with his girlfriend and feeling inspired by nautical design. The room came together around these details: “Even though they’re small, these pieces inform the whole and lend it cohesion.”