When we arrived at Florent late last night early this morning for the restaurant’s final, friends-and-family farewell party, we couldn’t help but wonder if maybe, just maybe, all the drama surrounding the legendary meatpacking-district institution’s closing would be revealed as some kind of grand prank. After all, just a few days earlier it had been announced that Florent’s landlord, Joanne Lucas, would be reopening the space as R&L; Restaurant, the greasy spoon that Florent replaced 23 years ago. Was the whole thing a ruse dreamed up by Florent’s owner? Florent Morellet, after all, is a disarming man whose propensity toward mischief is largely responsible for what made the restaurant such a beloved institution.
“No, no, I am sorry to say that it is all very real,” Morellet told us when we arrived after midnight. And, indeed, signs of the end were indeed abundant. Gone was the pink neon sign that had hung in the window for the past 23 years, moody soul ballads were trickling (only semi-ironically) from the speakers inside, and spread out on the counter by the entrance were a number of mordant mementos of the end: tiny plastic boxes containing “souvenir menu board letters” stamped with the dates of Florent’s life span, 1985–2008. In the middle of the countertop sat a massive farewell cake molded in the form of Marie Antoinette (a.k.a. Morellet’s Bastille Day alter ego), which was beheaded and devoured at two in the morning.
Interestingly, we could not find a single waiter who planned to stay on, though when asked about the situation with his landlord, Morellet, whose ironclad immunity to nostalgia has been well documented, was quick to note that he found it to be the perfect conclusion to the saga. “It’s hysterical, isn’t it?” he said. “Someone did offer the money she wanted, but do you know what she did? She turned it down! They wanted to do, like, a million-dollar renovation, and in the end she just couldn’t do it. I mean, I think it’s crazy that she wants to run a restaurant. But good crazy, you know? I have made, at the most, $150,000 a year owning Florent. That’s a good salary, but it’s nothing compared to getting $50,000 for doing nothing.” He laughed. “But, hey, if she thinks she can do it…”
The event was for the most part unsentimental, except for a performance by Lambertt Moss (a.k.a. Ebony Jett) who brought half the room to tears with a song mourning the restaurant’s close. And unlike the raucous parties that have been held every Monday for the past month, this was an intimate, low-key affair, boozy but not debauched. Then, when we called it a night at four in the morning, Morellet and the 30 or so stalwarts who remained had taken their shirts off and were belting out disco songs. Chances are they haven’t stopped. —David Amsden
Complete Florent Coverage
Florent’s Last Supper
On the Matter of Florent: Joanne Lucas, What’s Your Deal?
The 25th Hour of Florent Morellet [NYM]