After six months of renovations following an unfortunate sinking situation, the former Gin Palace re-opened at the corner of East Sixth Street and Avenue A last night under its shiny new banner, Mother of Pearl. Taking cues from tiki traditions, Mother of Pearl has been described by owner Ravi DeRossi as “postmodern Polynesia.”
“We didn’t want to get pigeonholed into “tiki bar,”” the East Village nightlife impresario told us. “I wanted to get back to where I’d started [Death & Co] — more civilized, only seated and a higher level of service, which is where the label ‘Postmodern Polynesian’ came from.”
Like Death & Co, Mother of Pearl is a throwback to pre-prohibition era, a time when drinking establishments still enjoyed a modicum of civility.
“It would have cost the same amount to re-open Gin Palace or do something completely different and I figured, ‘Let me try something else’… It’s really a reaction against all the dive-y bars that have opened in New York over the past few years,” said DeRossi.
Living up to this bold claim and its name, the former Gin Palace was completely “gutted” in order to lay down the new foundation and design for Mother of Pearl’s lush interior. Assisting in this regard was Jane Danger, beverage manager to several DeRossi ventures, who joined on to help steer this rum-soaked ship.
“We didn’t want it to be too kitschy, because there are already some great bars in the city that have a stronghold on traditional tiki… This is more our own kind of style – just little notes and hints,” said Danger.
As far as “notes and hints” go, Danger lists “tiki totem pole” bar stools, pineapple-motif candleholders and, if you look carefully, “some little parrots sort of hidden in the upholstery.” And then, of course, central to any self-respecting tiki-inspired joint: fancy beverage accouterments.
“We’ll have a specific glass for every cocktail, like they do for a zombie we’ll put in a skull mug,” said Danger.
Sure, but what’s going into the mug? “We’re using tiki flavors, but not in the traditional way. For instance, we have a drink that’s similar to one of my classic favorites, a rum Demerara Dry Float with passion fruit and maraschino. Only with ours we’ve gone with lemon over lime, put in some curacao and added bourbon and rye. It’s called a Shark Eye, it’s our ‘tiki take’ on a sour in a way.”
And given DeRossi’s magic touch, Mother of Pearl’s ‘tiki take’ is likely bang on the money. “I don’t know how I ended up in this business, it was just sort of dumb luck. I was an artist traveling around selling artwork who opened up a place 12 years ago because I needed money and it just did really well,” said DeRossi.
Asked what he attributes this success to apart from “dumb luck,” DeRossi credits collaboration. “Being an artist, I like to conceptualize and design my spaces and then bring in the right people to do everything else.”
Mother of Pearl, 95 Ave A; running tonight and tomorrow at limited capacity, opening fully to the public starting Friday.