Founded by Australian expats Dylan Hales and Ronnie Flynn, the venue was inspired by the universal appeal of the local pubs in their home country. After years of working in the New York nightlife scene for other people, they eventually banded together to launch The Flower Shop with a focus on authenticity and a more egalitarian approach to hospitality. In the years since they’ve turned a mix of downtown cool and the chillest of vibes into a wave that quietly revolutionised the city’s approach to nightlife.
This October they’re stripping the decor from the walls of The Flower Shop (literally) and transporting it to Abu Dhabi for their first pop-up in the Middle East at Semi Permanent. We caught up with Dylan and Ronnie in between services to hear more about The Flower Shop and how they plan to translate its unique approach to hospitality to the Middle East.
What was your initial goal when you were developing The Flower Shop?
Dylan Hales: For many years we were heavily immersed in the downtown scene of New York. Your typical big night out, so to speak, would be a dinner with friends and then you’d kind of pot around and end up at a nightclub later on. If you wanted to have a chilled night, you’d hit some of the local dive bars or spend your night at a restaurant. We conceptualised for a long time and came to the idea of creating a kind-of upbeat Aussie pub, a multifaceted venue where instead of it being a bar, or restaurant, or nightclub, it's effectively all three in one and everyone is welcome. We knew that there was a huge gap in the market for a concept like that. And it turns out that we were right.
Ronnie Flynn: Basically, we did it for us and our friends! At the time I was working with a big nightlife hospitality group here in New York and it felt like the traditional exclusive doorman and red velvet rope thing wasn’t really resonating with the downtown scene anymore. All these talented interesting young creative friends were being were just sick of being screened or rejected by doormen because they didn’t “look right” or have some sort of clout. The fact is that this funky crew are actually some of the most influential and fun people in the city. Stylists, editors, artists, photographers, skateboarders… That’s when we realised there was a gap in the market for an unpretentious place where everyone is welcome. Somewhere in between the dive bars and nightclubs that also serves food. And for me, personally, coming from a design background it was also about creative freedom; no rules.
Dylan: The irony of the whole situation is that we still ended up with some of the best crowds in New York. But there wasn't the red velvet rope and all that bullshit.
Do you think that’s because you had created something more genuine?
Dylan: Instant and ongoing success requires a formula where many facets play an important role. When something is created with love, attention and a genuine goal in mind, people can just feel it. If you couple our genuine intentions with a beautifully designed and whimsical space, fantastic staff who love working for us, a solid and effective public relations campaign, plus mine and Ronnie’s ability to fill a room with people from all walks of life and facilitate them having a great time, that’s in part why we were sprinting straight out of the gate.
Ronnie: Yeah, I think a lot of that has to do with us having genuine intentions. From day we put our blood, sweat and tears into this project. We also invited so many friends to contribute along the way (and continue to do so), whether it be helping build the place, donating art for the walls, collaborating on merch or inventing cocktails. I think between all those incremental touches and our epic team and staff that you can feel the soul in the place. We are also in the middle of Chinatown. So, from the street the venue is very unassuming, then once you re inside, you’re in a whole other world where there is something for everyone. You can bring your parents for dinner, have a wild fashion week party or do trivia Tuesdays with the locals.
You’ve built a real community around The Flower Shop. How do you maintain that?
Ronnie: The community and neighbourhood are very important to us. At the end of the day New York City is a massive small town and we happen to have a shit load of eclectic friends. The name itself came from the idea that in small towns the florist or the flower shop was the unofficial town hall because they always know who was dating, getting married, had fallen ill, celebrating, or cheating because people would come for flowers.
We have a lot of people that call this place home and contribute from all over the world. It’s basically become a club house. I mean, we have friends that come straight to The Flower Shop from the airport with their luggage every time they come to town. We like to think it’s sort of like people’s ‘safe place’ full of good times. And again, our staff and attitude have a lot to do with that dynamic. It’s one big family.
Dylan: Old friends, new friends, neighbours, locals and staff is what allows us to maintain our community atmosphere. From the beginning, we always loved the idea of Cheers Bar where everyone knows your name.
Ronnie: We're also quite proud of the fact that we can have celebrity friends or whatnot come to our place and no one's going to hassle them, then next thing you know they’ve become best friends with a local from down the street. A lot of lifelong friends and lovers have met at The Flower Shop.
Dylan: We are going to do the best we can to replicate the space as much as possible. There are considerable challenges since Abu Dhabi and New York are some 11,000 kilometers from each other. However, we are confident in providing a great window into what we do in New York. Ronnie and I are very excited to meet us and discuss our vision with as many folks as possible during Semi Permanent Middle East.
Ronnie: We’re attempting to fully recreate the feeling and aesthetic that we have in NYC. To be honest, Abu Dhabi is really foreign to both of us but we're going to try and bring our vibe and the visceral feeling of The Flower Shop along with a taste of our menu and food that’s earned us and our chef Michael Hamilton recognition from the Michelin Guide.
As far as the music and decor goes, people will really get a sense of what The Flower Shop is physically like. We're going to bring elements and materials like the pool table and take the vintage decor off the walls here and bring it to the Middle East.
There is a lot of nostalgic references in the design of The Flower Shop. People will come up and say: “My grandpa had that exact thing in his basement”. The walls and bars are covered in decor and collectibles. They all have a story. So we want people at the event to be able to come in and keep discovering little elements they didn’t quite see at first. We also hope you’ll connect with people, create friendships, and treat it like the local pub at the event. A place that’s a bit of an escape to meet someone new and discuss whatever you’ve just seen or heard at Semi Permanent.
Have you done many pop-ups with The Flower Shop before?
Ronnie: We've done various smaller pop ups and activations before, like Miami Art Basel and Sundance Film Festival where we throw parties or events, but this is definitely the biggest. It is the first time we’ve recreated The Flower Shop from the ground up.
Dylan: In the past our pop-ups were more of a cultural experience, where we just created a vibe and brought a crowd. We're really excited by the opportunity to get to replicate The Flower Shop space as much as we can and give people the real experience of what we do in New York.