- Gem Spa has been open in Manhattan’s Lower East side for 100 years, but rose to fame as a gathering place for beat poets in the ’60s.
- While the history of the egg cream is contested, some say the fizzy drink was invented right here at Gem Spa. Many claim no matter where it was invented, Gem Spa does it best.
- With recent financial troubles resulting from the loss of their cigarette and lottery ticket licence, Gem Spa has launched a social media campaign in an effort to give the egg cream a comeback and help save their store front.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Taryn Varricchio: There is one quintessential, old school drink that true new yorkers know can’t be bottled: the egg cream. The classic chocolate egg cream, which contains neither egg nor cream, has been a favourite sweet & fizzy concoction mixed up in soda shops and new york bodegas for over a century. And Gem Spa, a historic New York bodega located in the heart of the East Village, is trying to keep the tradition of the egg cream alive, despite declining sales over the years.
Customer: It’s a simple recipe, but so many people get it wrong.
Taryn: I don’t understand. I don’t understand!
I have never had an egg cream before, so I’m excited to see how it’s made. Let’s go!
Parul Patel : My family has owned [Gem Spa] for 33 years but it’s been around for 100 years. There’s a lot of history with Gem Spa in the east village. People consider it to be the anchor of the neighbourhood. They consider it to be one of the last old school stores in the area. Most of the stores have modernised or gentrified and we still have the old school touch.
It’s had a lot of big names walk through. A lot of celebrities. A lot of artwork has been created around it. One of the most prominent artworks that has been created is called “Gem Spa” – a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Taryn: Today, the punk rock bodega is at risk of closure. With the recent loss of their cigarette and lottery licenses, they are struggling to keep up with the demands of a prime New York City rent.
Parul: We’ve had to kind of reinvent ourselves and focus on what we’ve been known for, and that is the egg cream. And the kind of distinguishes us, and we’re considered to be the best.
Taryn: They even launched an Instagram account in April of this year, claiming the handle @besteggcream to drive the message home.
Customer: I came in the Gem Spa because, when I was a little lad, my dad used to take me to Gem Spa way back when. They just have a feel about it. They use the right ingredients. They have the right combination of stuff. It’s a simple recipe, but so many people get it wrong.
Parul: There are three ingredients in an egg cream. And, surprisingly, there are many ways to screw it up. The egg cream is made with frozen milk, seltzer, and syrup. So, it’s very important that the milk and the syrup be rich. So we make it a point to use U-bet syrup. And any traditional, old-school, egg-cream drinker is going to tell you it’s not an egg cream unless you use U-bet. There’s a reason we have this reputation for having the best egg creams. We have a process.
Taryn: It’s only three ingredients.
Taryn: OK. I’m ready. It sounds simple, but you said there’s a technique, so.
Parul: We’re going to show you the right way.
Parul: Here we go. You’re going to take some frozen milk, and give this a shake.
Taryn: Is this completely frozen or semi-frozen?
Parul: It has milk. It has some chunks.
Taryn: There are frozen chunks. Not any other sorts of kinds.
Parul: So, you’re going to pour about a quarter cup of milk, right up to here. There we go.
Taryn: It’s chunky.
Parul: And some chocolate syrup. And you’re going to give it one big squirt, and I’m going to tell you when to stop. That’s it.
Taryn: How much seltzer are we going to do?
Parul: You’re going to go up to about here because it’s going to start bubbling and you don’t want it to overflow. Try to hold the cup. Yeah, there you go. That’s it!Taryn: Bubbly. Oh, my God! I don’t understand. I don’t understand!
Taryn: Is this what happens next? You’re not giving up on me, please? Nah, that’s the worst egg cream I’ve ever seen.
Parul: Well, you did a great job. I’m going to show you how we make it at Gem Spa.
So, first we take some semi-frozen milk, and then we add our chocolate U-bet syrup, then we add some seltzer, just like this.
Taryn: Perfectly frothy when you do it.
Parul: This is our classic Gem Spa egg cream.
Taryn: OK. This is more milkshake-ish to me, and I do actually thoroughly enjoy it, and chocolate…
Parul: Awesome, thank you.
Taryn: It’s the best way I think to have it.
Parul: Thank you.
Four months ago I felt like it was dying out, and now there’s this reinvigorated interest. We were selling in the spring about 200 a week, and that was a good week. And yesterday we sold 65. I feel like the egg cream is coming back, and it’s going to come back strong.Taryn: I love that frothiness. I love everything frothy.
Is that right?Parul: Yeah, you’re good! That’s pretty good.
Taryn: I’m just really, like, throwing the spoon around a lot, honestly.
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