The last word from R&L; Restaurant, the coffee shop that clumsily tried to replace Florent in fits and starts over the last six months, was that it had closed permanently and that it was maybe possibly reopening as a new restaurant “in two or three months.” Today, a few new bits of information have surfaced. When a reputable downtown restaurateur put in a competitive bid on the space a few weeks back, his offer wasn’t even entertained. He was told the space had been leased; Grub Street has confirmed that a signed lease is now in place with another player, according to a source very close to Joanne Lucas, who owns the property. As for who this new tenant is, the facts are less clear.
We asked one nightlife expert about the space and he said, "At the numbers she was asking, I’m hard pressed to believe that anyone with any market knowledge would have signed. She was asking $30k/month, so assume it’s $20k. The taxes are very high there and you’d be required to basically rebuild the space. It’s in very poor condition and hasn’t been touched in twenty years." Nevertheless, two more sources named David Graziano and David Cabo, of the Pink Elephant and Bagatelle cabal, as the new lease holders.
If so, while these operators clearly understand the business of putting people in seats and getting them to surrender their precious-metal-class AmExes, their devotion to neighborhood benevolence is less well established. (Bagatelle is a serious player in the bottle-and-brunch movement, of course.) If they are taking the space, a gut job is all but inevitable, as is a subsequent and pronounced change in clientele.
Back to Lucas and R&L; for a moment: Any new operator is better than the old one. Lucas was sitting on one of the West Side’s great venues and not making use of it. Little-known about the space is that it has both a huge basement level — plenty of room for a unmarked dungeon-style lounge — and an upstairs apartment complete with terrace that looks onto Gansevoort Street. Provided the community board ultimately plays along, the next iteration of Florent has the potential to be a blockbuster. Stay tuned.