Florent, Queen of the Meatpacking District, What Are You Doing Now?

| June 11, 2012 4:00 AM video

“Florent, Queen of the Meatpacking District” airs on WNET/Thirteen on Sunday, June 17 at 11 pm.

Florent Morellet, former restaurant owner, is moving forward while many of his fans look back. Photo by Paul Szynol.

The question endures: “What are you doing now?”

“I’m working on my art, cartography art!”

Enquirer disregards. “We loved your restaurant. It’s a terrible loss!”

“I’m just back from a show in France after my biggest solo show in December at the Christopher Henry Gallery in Nolita, and two other shows right before that in Seattle and….”

Enquirer is deaf. “Since you left, the neighborhood isn’t the same anymore.”

I’ll try this: “I’m still involved with the neighborhood. I’ve been appointed to the Community Board, and I work on traffic and transportation issues, especially bike lanes and public spaces.”

Florent as Marie Antoinette in front of his restaurant on Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District. Courtesy Florent archives.

Enquirer is deaf as a doorknob. “We have nowhere to go now.”

Oh, no. Here it comes. The killer question: “When are you going to open another restaurant?”

Florent’s Official Press Release: “I don’t want to open another restaurant, not now, not at this stage in my life.”

“But you HAVE to open another restaurant!”

(Puleasse!) “Sorry, I’ve been in the business for 35 years. I need to take a break.”

“You don’t understand. Downtown needs Florent. New York needs a Florent! You’re an institution!”

“Did you see the documentary ‘Florent: Queen of the Meat Market?’”

“Of course! I loved it so much! Isn’t it sad that they kicked you out?”

“You loved the movie? Did you notice any message?”

WATCH VIDEO:

For 23 years, the diner Florent drew a mix of celebrities, tourists, entertainers and clubbers to the Meatpacking District. The documentary “Florent, Queen of the Meatpacking District” (2011) was directed, produced and shot by David Sigal to chronicle the history and final days of the beloved icon, which closed its doors in 2008 on the night of the Gay Pride parade. It airs on WNET/Thirteen on Sunday, June 17 at 11 pm.

“Message?”

“About change. Accepting change. Especially here in the capital of the world.”

Duelling Bankheads at Florent. Photo by Paul Szynol.

“Well, I’m all for change done the right way. But they have completely destroyed the Meat Market, the Village, and the New York I loved so much when I moved here. Florent was the last holdout of that Golden Era.”

 

“Golden Era? A bankrupt city with a crippled government, social services and transportation in free fall? And it was burning! The South Bronx was loosing ten square blocks a year to arson.”

“But there was so much creativity, so many artists could afford to live in Manhattan, the club scene was so uninhibited.”

“All because of the massive municipal neglect at the time. That’s what allowed subcultures to take hold and bloom.”

“But it was so stimulating…such a fertile playground.”

“Because it was unsupervised by absent city departments. Bars, clubs, sex clubs and bathhouses opened without permits, licenses, fire and health codes. Decrepit piers became a gay Magic Kingdom: Swiss Family Treehouse with nude sunbathing that turned into Jungle Cruise at sunset and then morphed into Haunted Mansion after midnight.”

“Well, now New York is only for the rich. Young people can’t afford it.”

“New York’s only for the rich? Do you mean the Bronx? Brooklyn? Queens?”

“I mean Manhattan!”

“Manhattan? You mean Morningside Heights? Harlem? The Lower East Side?”

“I mean Downtown! The Village! Soho! I don’t see any young people moving into the neighborhood. It’s too expensive!”

“Young people are still flocking to New York. To Williamsburg, Harlem, Jackson Heights, or the South Bronx. You should move there. That’s where it’s happening.”

“Why should I move from the place I’ve lived for 35 years?”

Marisol dining at Florent. Photo by Paul Szynol.

“You sound like the two old cranks who ate lunch at the restaurant every day. We called them Uncle Bob and Auntie Marie because all they did was complain that things weren’t the way they used to be.”

“But they’re not!”

“Yes! And guess what? Now you’re just like Uncle Bob and Auntie Marie! You’ve gotten old and you don’t like change either!”

This is exhausting. I have to move on, keep walking, but I have to be on the lookout. I’ve become a target for people looking to vent their overflowing nostalgia. I try to avoid public events, openings and cocktail parties where I can be cornered like a sitting canard à l’orange.

So I keep on moving, walking along sidewalk: “I hear you’re going to open in Harlem!”

Moving a little faster, riding my bicycle: “I have the perfect building for a new Florent!”

A lot faster – sitting in a subway car: “I read that you’ve signed a lease in Brooklyn!”

At jet speed on an intercontinental flight: “Have you thought about opening in L.A.? You’d make a killing there!”

And then I run into a bunch of twenty-somethings. “Restaurant Florent? Never heard of it. Where? The Meat Market? Meatpacking District? Nope, never heard. The Village? Never go there, really.”

I am ready to bet that by 2040 at the latest, these Brooklyn hipsters will mope and rant at the demise of the New York they loved. That Golden Era. The Golden Era of Bushwick.

French-born Florent Morellet studied City Planning at Central London Polytechnic. He opened Florent in the Meatpacking District of New York in 1985 and became known for both his hospitality and social activism. Since closing the eatery in 2008, he has concentrated on his art, which is inspired by maps, atlases and cities. Morellet serves on Community Board 2 in Manhattan.

"Branching Out," a recent painting by Florent Morellet. Morellet's art work includes fantastical cartography, which can be seen in "Map as Art" (Princeton University Press, 2009). Image courtesy Florent Morellet.

  • BenInBrooklyn

    I was lucky enough to dine at Flourent once before it closed. The moules and frites we’re excellent, but so was the energy of the place. felt like I crashed a private dinner party, but was welcomed with open arms.

    • http://www.artworkshopintl.com/ beainthecity

      I live in Westbeth since 1970. Florent was a wonderful place and we ate there often. Since i was born ten thousand miles away (Brighton Beach in Brooklyn) from The City, I was delighted to move into The City, but it’s a shame that the flavor of it has spoiled. Florent we miss you, you were what I always felt was the answer to what was my idea of living in The City  represented until about 10 years ago. It sure was fun. So thank you Florent for the years you gave us a chance to live out our dream of living in NY meant. I wish you good luck and long life.

  • piepie123

    Florents; 69 Gansevoort Street; My favorite of all favorites! I could have eaten three meals a day there and never get tired and sometimes I did. The food was THAT good. The staff was so  pleasant and so cool. Believe it or not, I even got married there … TWICE! Florents will always hold a special place in my heart.

  • Noel Sabvage

    Definately go out to see David Segal’s documentary about Florent! He is a great director and producer, and a great person. The movie is fabulous, and certainly gives the viewer a true sense of what it means to be an activist, homosexual, passionate, a New Yorker in a great time period.

  • Mary Barbuto

    Wonderful article, Florent.  Such a privilege to know you, mon ami!

  • PeterJ

    It was only after I’d been here a few times in 86/87 that I noticed the map just inside the entrance was of Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia – my home town! I still miss the boudin noir….

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