Memories of Florent
New York restaurants are as ephemeral as the postcards and matchbooks I collect from them, and Florent was no exception. Anyone who spent time in downtown Manhattan between 1985 and 2008 sorely misses this restaurant. I moved to New York in 2006, lucky to have enjoyed it in its last years - Restaurant Florent was only a year younger than I was when it perished. Its sad demise in June 2008 marked a shift in the downtown landscape that could no longer be denied, with ever-rising rents constantly threatening the preservation of establishments that had come to define neighborhoods and generations. In that respect, Florent was possibly the most significant downtown landmark of its era. Florent was everything to everyone - a restaurant, yes, but also a place where social history transpired, a place to belong. Its passing was mourned by many: The New York Times and New York Magazine published retrospectives; a documentary, Florent: Queen of the Meat Market, was produced.
I mostly visited Florent at night, its 24-hour schedule conveniently accommodating my nocturnal habits. I usually collected whatever ephemera was available, and I always ordered the mac & cheese with a side of sautéed green beans and a glass of the house rosé. I ordered the same thing a little over a year after Florent closed when I found myself there (hardly by accident) on my first date with the love of my life. We had met a few hours earlier at a Halloween party in Washington Heights, and as the party was dying down around 2:00 a.m. he asked me if I wanted to get something to eat. “I know a 24-hour place downtown!” I said, knowing that the short-lived restaurant that followed Florent at 69 Gansevoort had retained its schedule and much of its menu. The maps and pink glow were gone, but the specter of Florent remained.
As I write this, my eyes are wet with grief and nostalgia. Florent symbolized a moment when the life I had long dreamed of intersected with the life I was actually living. It was the place where I finally became the person I always knew I was. Florent was the first place where I felt like a New Yorker.