Photos and reporting by Stacie Joy
An outpost of the Brooklyn-based Poetica Coffee will be opening at the SW corner of Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place, the longtime former home of Gem Spa, the iconic newsstand-candy shop.
Owner Parviz Mukhamadkulov (pictured below) received the keys to the space — officially 36 St. Mark's Place — on Friday. This will be the second Manhattan location for the brand, which has seven spots in Brooklyn.
Mukhamadkulov, from Uzbekistan, has said that he has wanted to own his own café since he was a kid and watched his father work as a coffee wholesaler.
pierogies, which are more popular in central Asia as opposed to boiled or fried dumplings... and with coffee beans from a roaster in Brooklyn. With the landlord's permission, Mukhamadkulov would like to add an enclosed sidewalk cafe on the St. Mark's Place side.
Mukhamadkulov said he didn't know about the history of the space when he first rented the storefront (there wasn't any mention of the previous tenant in the marketing materials) ... and he has since explored the history of the address... and reached out to Parul Patel, who ran Gem Spa in recent years, with an offer to sell their merchandise free of charge.
He said he wants to honor the location's legacy and has "big shoes to step into."
Here's how the interior looked as of Saturday...
Gem Spa, home of the egg cream according to some sources, officially closed in May 2020 amid ongoing financial challenges worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parul Patel, who had been running the store that her father Ray owned since 1986, made a gallant effort to save the iconic corner shop that dates to the 1920s. This post has more background on Gem Spa's last few years.
And more history, via a Vanity Fair piece from May 2020:
The tributes that followed Patel's closure announcement ... teemed with references to the art in which the store had served as a backdrop: Madonna's turn in "Desperately Seeking Susan"; Patti Smith writing about going for an egg cream with Robert Mapplethorpe in her memoir "Just Kids"; a pair of lines from an Allen Ginsberg poem ("Back from the Gem Spa, into the hallway, a glance behind / and sudden farewell to the bedbug-ridden mattresses piled soggy in dark rain"); the back cover of the New York Dolls' first album; the title of a 1982 Jean-Michel Basquiat painting; Lou Reed's song "Egg Cream.: The works traced a timeline of the East Village that both belonged firmly to the 20th century and remained top of mind.