On the Matter of Florent: Joanne Lucas, What’s Your Deal?

Quit playing games with our heart.
Quit playing games with our heart.

So, Florent. Just to recap: We learned back in, oh, January that Florent was going to close its storied doors. The landlord, Joanne Lucas, put the space on the block for something like $58,000 or maybe even $70,000 a month. Florent Morellet had been paying around $6,000 — clearly, Lucas wasn’t looking for a new diner to move into her space. For that kind of money, Lucas was clearly looking for the kind of tenant that is synonymous with the meatpacking district’s latest incarnation: a high-end retailer, perhaps the sort of chic, Euro-friendly designer or boutique that would willingly bleed that sort of money just to sit on a cobblestone corner near Soho House (and just a two-second cab ride to the Norwood!).

But, as we all now know, Lucas didn’t get that high-end retailer as a tenant. She didn’t get any tenant, it would seem, as it has been reported that after Florent shuts its doors for good on Sunday night, Lucas will reopen the joint on Tuesday as R&L; Restaurant, the diner that Florent replaced many years ago (and which was once owned by Lucas’s father). Even better, R&L; will have the same staff and menu as Florent. So besides a name change and the removal of a quaint neon sign, we’re guessing the only real, quantifiable difference will be the absence of the inimitable Mr. Morellet. And that’s a big difference, of course — but still, we can’t help feeling a little duped here.

This city has loudly mourned the inevitable passing of Florent for five months now, and at some point during those five months, Lucas knew she was going to keep the space as a diner. At what point did she know? You can bet she didn’t just wake up two days ago, phone her broker, and call the whole thing off (“You know what? Tell Colette I’ve changed my mind. The people need French-onion soup!”). At the very least, Lucas threw in the towel a little while ago, but she said nothing. It stayed a secret until Eater dragged it out of her at the last minute. And what if they hadn’t? When was she going to tell everyone? Was she just going to reopen the place and hope that people showed up out of habit or something?

On the upside, Florent’s “final days” have meant a bonus influx of income for the man himself, which he certainly deserves. But as for Lucas? She just might be a PR mastermind, but we can’t decide if she’s working for forces good or evil. On the one hand, a restaurant is saved, kinda. But she also let the weeping continue for no good reason — kind of like Streisand selling farewell-tour tickets. And not even Streisand would shut off the gas for dramatic effect. We don’t think, anyhow. —Jessica Coen

Earlier: Florent to Reopen as Florent-Type Restaurant