Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Florent The Movie

I loved Florent from the very first time I went there in 1987 or '88, I can't remember exactly. It was a magical place and, while I loathe the word magical as it is so overused, it actually had this magical quality.

Picture this: I'm 27 or so (I know it's very hard to imagine I was ever that young, but try, ok?) wandering about in the Meat Packaging District. It's the late '80's so there are tranny drag queens, sex clubs and congealed cows blood that still spots the streets because meat packers where still plying their trade. Suddenly as I turn down Gansvoort street, like Dorothy entering Oz, there is Florent. A brightly lit, 24 hour beacon of warmth, acceptance, even love, from the man, Florent, himself, for everything and everyone New York is or can be. Love at first sight.

I still miss it all the time. I went to Florent for what? 21, 22 years and only stopped going when Florent was forced out by an exorbitant rent increase by the greedy landlady who in the end tried to take it over and capitalize on his success by basically reopening Florent sans the name, staff, style, energy, vibe, fun and food. Bitch. I'm happy to report it failed miserably.

When it was announced that he was closing Florent he had a "7 stages of grief" themed rolling party - every monday night for 7 weeks in a row it was a different stage of grief: shock/disbelief, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression and finally acceptance and hope. Neil and I made reservations for every one of those nights. It was as wonderful as Florent always was, but even more so. There were performances on the bar, packed with the regulars like us who had loved it for decades and needed to come together for one (ok, seven) last times.

Florent was the place where you went when you had a reason to be particularly happy and wanted to celebrate it, or when something terrible had happened and you needed a place to heal. (Maybe that was part of it - these were the worst of the AIDS years, after all, so being young in New York was about swinging dexterously between these two poles, back and forth, back and forth - and at Florent everyone implicitly understood). And if you wanted to show your out of town friends your New York this is where you took them. All of them loved it, too, and immediately got why you loved New York so much.

So many memories: Habitual dinner for four with our dear friend Jay (who later died of AIDS), his boyfriend Johnny, Neil and me, after some kind of show: the bustle of the art crowd mixed with leather men, drag queens and locals who'd just stopped in for a bite after a long day. Neil's big bash birthday surprise for me, us seated in the back, me facing the door, so what started with him and his mom and me, expanded and expanded, as one friend after another came in the door, each a bigger surprise, topped off with the fabulous Djanet Sears entering almost Hello Dolly style off a flight from Toronto. Finding out that one of my first lovers Daniel has been diagnosed with Huntington's Disease, I went there. Whenever our friend Audrey, introduced to us by Jay, is in town from LA we would always go to Florent for brunch or dinner, to remember Jay and to remember who we had been so many year's before. Neil and I even went and watched the presidential elections there and the Oscars, there, when the staff would be dressed in themed garb to match. For us, that's where our side finally and the Reagan/Bush years came to an end (HOORAY!!!) and then there was night night we left thinking Al Gore had won only to wake the next day to discover Bush was back (oh FUCK!) - but where else would we want to be for either of those two extremes?

I think it was Ruth Reichel writing for the New York Times when she was food critic said that New Yorkers have small apartments so restaurants take on special meanings, they become an extension of your home, your eat in kitchen or dining room, and so not someone else's place, but your own. Indeed I felt like Florent was more than an extension of my home, it was home.

Can you figure out at this point that I am beyond excited by the idea that there is going to be a movie about this quintessential New York landmark restaurant that played such an important part in my life (and everyone else who went there)?

But before you get to see the trailer for the movie let me share with you our Florent menu. During this aforementioned 7 day event, Florent was selling off everything, maps that decorated the walls, t-shirts and menus, in order to raise money to help support the staff while they looked for other jobs in the coming weeks after the place closed. It was on the Anger night that we were handed menus and mine had a map of Bangkok on the cover (Florent was a map freak the walls and menus were covered in maps). It seemed an auspicious sign that we should buy the menu as both Neil and I have a very special place in our hearts for Bangkok, as it was the hub of my quarterly travels to southeast Asia when I was running my store and importing Silks for four years.

OK now here is the trailer:


Kurt Brown said...

I'm so lucky to have you and Neil as my friends. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a movie when I hear your New York stories.

Can I say something like that on a public blog comments?

* wipes tears from eyes *

Audrey said...

ah florent! in my mind it's still there...and we can keep going forever. xxoo

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