Up-and-coming restaurateurs Rowen McDermott and Rebecca Johnson, who own the hugely popular Frankie Restaurant in Jersey City, are moving to the West Village early next year with a natural wine bar called Moonflower. Taking over the recently vacant Vin Sur Vingt location on the corner of West 11th Street and Greenwich Avenue, this jewelry box will feature the couple’s commitment to natural wine, seasonal dining and interior design style. Johnson’s whimsical – all of which contributed to their success at Jersey City. But the similarities between Frankie and what’s in store for Moonflower end there.
Frankie’s sprawling footprint in downtown Jersey City – with outdoor seating that has since expanded due to the pandemic, as well as an intimate private mezzanine-level room typically used for events – allowed McDermott and Johnson to deliver a more ambitious dining experience that includes weekend brunch. But given Moonflower’s 600-square-foot space, they’re exclusively aimed at wine-based dinners that languidly flow late into the night; Moonflower, after all, is a nod to flora that blooms only in the dark.
Sydney-born McDermott, who oversees the food and beverage side of the business, says it’s exactly this spatial disparity that forces them to shape this openness with a different concept. “On top of that, we like to work on separate projects from each other,” he says. Frankie’s cuisine is rooted in the multicultural and seasonal culinary scene of her Australian hometown; fish curry, kimchi-coated fried chicken and harissa lamb sausage rolls have made it a reliable mainstay of the neighborhood since opening in 2017. For Moonflower, however, the duo favor lighter dishes to complement. a wine bar. The menu of dishes will be constantly updated with, as the couple put it, “innovative and accessible dishes that highlight the atmosphere of the season”. They will work with local seafood vendors and make numerous trips to the Union Square Farmers Market to serve platters of minced fennel with house trout and a burrata salad with tomatoes and watermelon.
Considering the stricter bar layout, much of the food preparation will likely be done in the Frankie Kitchen, and finished and tackled in a serving area behind the Moonflower bar. And for wine, McDermott will curate an equally natural list. Given the country’s odd wine distribution channels, he says some of their Frankie favorites might cross the river. But easier access to more natural wine producers in New York City will give her the opportunity to create a separate list for Moonflower. And it’s through this wine program that McDermott hopes to distinguish the new venture from stuffy establishments. “We want to be an inviting and lively New York wine bar,” McDermott says. “To better describe it, it’s stepping into our love of natural wine and the excitement we feel when sharing new bottles with guests.”
Under the couple’s Swim Club Studio design and branding agency, Johnson developed Moonflower’s interior design scheme around the American craftsman movement with lightning bolts of Art Nouveau. Similar to the bright colors, woven chairs and graphic tiger wall decorations at Frankie, there will be a playful mix of references at Moonflower. Expect to see jewel tones, contrasting textures, whimsical patterns, and furniture embossed with “tattoos.” Together, the space is intended to evoke the bohemian spirit of the West Village of lore, which means collaborating with many local creatives. The people Johnson and McDermott worked with in Jersey City will be well represented at Moonflower: framed artwork from the Deep Space Gallery, candy-colored stained glass creations by Keith Van Pelt, spectacular floral installations by Casa Mona and custom joinery from Purple Lumières LLC. Sculptural light fixtures from Entler Studio and embroidered textiles from West Village boutique Eva Joan are also included.
For McDermott and Johnson, who actually live in the West Village, Moonflower will manifest many of the things they are passionate about: great food, natural wine, and vibrant design. In addition to Frankie, the couple have worked on a handful of projects in Jersey City, including live music hangout Fox & Crow and Lil ‘Dove Cafe, both owned by Johnson’s family. (And they recently launched a vacation rental property in Roxbury, New York called Moondog Cabin.) But this foray into New York City is something they say they’ve been planning for some time now.
“I don’t know if it’s ever easy to open a restaurant or a wine bar,” McDermott says. “But we had the idea of Moonflower floating in our imaginations and now we feel like it’s time to bring it to life. We’ve been residents of New York for a long time and in the Village for a good part of that time, [we know that] this type of place is intrinsic to this city, where a wine bar can be an extension of your living room and kitchen.