Up-and-coming restaurateurs Rowen McDermott and Rebecca Johnson, who own the wildly popular restaurant Frankie in Jersey City, are setting up shop in the West Village early next year with a natural wine bar called Moonflower. Taking over the recently vacated Vin Sur Vingt location on the corner of West 11th Street and Greenwich Avenue, this jewel box boite will feature the couple’s commitment to natural wine, seasonal dining, and Johnson’s whimsical interior design style — all of which have contributed to their success in Jersey City. But similarities between Frankie and what’s planned for Moonflower end there.
Frankie’s sprawling footprint in downtown Jersey City — with outdoor seating that has since expanded because of the pandemic, plus an intimate mezzanine-level private room typically used for events — has allowed McDermott and Johnson to offer a more ambitious restaurant experience that includes weekend brunch. But given Moonflower’s 600-square-foot space, they’re exclusively aiming for wine-fueled dinners that languorously flow late into the night; Moonflower, after all, is a nod to flora that only blooms in the dark.
Sydney-born McDermott, who oversees the food and beverage side of the business, says it’s exactly this spatial disparity that requires them to shape this opening with a different concept. “In addition to that, we like to work on projects that are distinct from one another,” he says. Frankie’s kitchen is rooted in his Australian hometown’s multicultural, seasonal food scene; fish curry, kimchi-coated fried chicken, and harissa-spiked lamb sausage rolls have made it a dependable neighborhood stalwart since opening in 2017. For Moonflower, however, the duo are favoring lighter fare to complement a wine bar setting. The food menu will be constantly refreshed with, as the couple says, “innovative and approachable dishes that highlight the mood of the season.” They’ll be working with local seafood purveyors and making plenty of trips to the Union Square farmers market to serve plates of shaved fennel with house-cured trout and burrata salad with tomato and watermelon.
Given the bar’s tighter blueprint, much of the major food prep will likely be done out of the Frankie kitchen, and finished up and plated in a service area behind Moonflower’s bar. And for wine, McDermott will curate a similarly natural-leaning list. Given the country’s odd wine distribution channels, he says that some of their Frankie favorites might make it across the river. But easier access to more natural wine producers in New York will give him a chance to create a distinct list for Moonflower altogether. And it’s through this wine program that McDermott hopes to set the new venture apart from stuffy establishments. “We want to be an inviting and spirited New York wine bar,” McDermott says. “To describe it better is to go into our love of natural wine and the excitement we get sharing new bottles with guests.”
Under the couple’s design and branding agency Swim Club Studio, Johnson developed Moonflower’s interior decor scheme around the American craftsman movement with flashes of Art Nouveau. Similar to the bright colors, basket-weave chairs, and graphic wall decors of tigers at Frankie, there’s going to be a playful medley of references at Moonflower. Expect to see jewel tones, contrasting textures, whimsical patterns, and furniture embossed with “tattoos.” Combined, the space is meant to evoke the Bohemian spirit of the West Village of lore, which means collaborating with a lot of local creatives. Folks that Johnson and McDermott have worked with in Jersey City will be well-represented at Moonflower: framed art pieces from Deep Space Gallery, candy-colored stained glass creations by Keith Van Pelt, dramatic floral installations from Casa Mona, and custom millwork by Purple Lights LLC. Sculptural light fixtures by Entler Studio and embroidered textiles from West Village boutique Eva Joan are included, too.
For McDermott and Johnson, who actually live in the West Village, Moonflower will manifest many of the things that they’re passionate about — good food, natural wine, and dynamic design. In addition to Frankie, the couple has worked on a handful of projects in Jersey City, including the live music hangout Fox & Crow and Lil’ Dove Cafe, both of which Johnson’s family owns. (And they ecently 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 a while now.
“I’m not sure if it’s ever easy to open a restaurant or wine bar,” McDermott says. “But we have had the idea for Moonflower floating in our imaginations and now feels like the moment to bring it to life. We have been New York residents for a long time and in the Village for a good portion of that time, [we know that] this type of venue is intrinsic to this city, where a wine bar can be an extension of your living room and kitchen.”