Saying adieu to a key Meatpacking pioneer
As the final days of Florent Morellet’s infamous diner approach later this month, chronicled in the many mournful news stories eulogizing the prolific and provocative restaurateur, the man often referred to as the Mayor of the Meatpacking District still has his gaze fixed on the future of this ever-changing neighborhood, rather than on the past.
Morellet, who in 1985 opened his 24-hour bistro at 69 Gansevoort St. in the then-dicey Meat Market, will close for good on June 29 after succumbing to the neighborhood’s skyrocketing rents.
In between interviews and tending to his restaurant on Tuesday, the convivial Frenchman seemed more focused on the night’s upcoming Community Board 2 meeting and all the sweat his Traffic and Transportation Committee, of which he is a public member, had poured into working to ease congestion in the fast-growing area during the past three years.
It is this commitment to the community that has made Morellet such a vital part of our neighborhood through the decades, even more so than his fostering of a refuge for the various night crawlers who coalesced with comfort food under his restaurant’s neon lights.
As well as being an outspoken mouthpiece for the Meatpacking District, the 54-year-old restaurateur has taken on causes, including, but not limited to, AIDS advocacy, gay pride, a woman’s right to choose and the right to die. And let’s not forget the gender-bending spectacle of his own drag performances.
Locally, he was an instrumental force in helping designate the Gansevoort Historic District in 2003, and still actively volunteers his expertise on area projects, like the recent proposed redevelopment of St. Vincent’s Hospital. His contribution to the Greater Gansevoort Urban Improvement Project has sought to help reduce the amount of car traffic on the area’s increasingly pedestrian-heavy streets, a symbol of the city’s push for a more environmentally forward-thinking future. And his annual celebration on Bastille Day offers one of the more rollicking parties in New York.
“If I had died at birth, the neighborhood would have grown the same,” he said Tuesday, downplaying his own influence over a place he’s helped improve as both businessman and preservationist.
“We have a tendency, we humans, where we like to pinpoint success and failure on one person,” he added. “It’s a wonderful way for people to simplify, to get a grasp of history, but I accept the compliments. … Whatever I do, I do because I feel I have to do it.”
Morellet harbors no regrets, only ideas for how to adapt and move on. He admitted his “big mouth” will continue to advocate for the Meatpacking District, whether it’s working with the Department of Transportation to encourage more bicycle use, or writing letters in support of local landmarking efforts.
“Change is good, but it’s a little scary,” Morellet said. “Maybe it’s time to work on another neighborhood.”
For our sake, we hope Florent doesn’t go far.