Volume 74, Number 12 | July 21 - 27, 2004

Food


Two open 24 in Chelsea and the Meat Market

By Heather Paster

Villager photo by Heather Paster

The bar at Diner 24 at 15th St. and Eighth Ave., the site of a former Greek diner.

New York is the city that never sleeps. Yet, it seems there’s a finite opportunity for late-night meals. Fortunately, two Downtown restaurants on the West Side cater to the most discriminating diners at all hours. Both serve reliable, no-frills, quality food.

At the corner of 15th St. and Eighth Ave, at the junction of three neighborhoods, the Meatpacking District, the West Village and Chelsea, is Diner 24. Owner Alex Freij used to live in the neighborhood and craved a late-night diner. After 16 months of planning and construction, Freij, 29, opened the doors on July 7 to his second restaurant and first fully executed design project (in his spare time he launched GPP, Gastro Punk Productions, a design and concept firm).

Veteran chef Vincent Nargi helped conceive of the creative menu, offering new flare to staple foods. The macaroni and cheese has Emmenthaler and Gruyere cheeses complemented by a thick breadcrumb topping. “We really wanted to take classic foods and bring them up a level,” says Freij, which explains why the fish tacos are accompanied by cranberry beans. Experimenting with recipes at Freij’s other restaurant, industry, Nargi hit some recipes immediately, while others needed tweaking and some creations were nixed altogether. “I really wanted a menu that was reasonably priced, offered variety and could appeal to people for both lunch and dinner,” added Freij. In addition to the all-day dining options, the menu has distinct plates for breakfast and lunch only. A delivery menu will evolve once the main restaurant is open longer.

Freij is happy to already begin seeing regular customers, including diners who will revisit the same day. “It’s too early to tell which are the popular items, but we haven’t received any complaints,” said host BJ Alugbin.

The 24-hour lifestyle of a restaurant can be challenging. “Workers didn’t understand that once we opened, we were not closing,” says Freij, who is still waiting to install a chandelier and an antique mirror. To stay on top of the 24-hour demands, Freij rented an apartment in the building to take naps and be on call.

The restaurant includes the space of the former Doherty’s Greek diner, of which Freij bought out the lease — “I sent Paulie on an early vacation,” he noted of the place’s owner — and also a cellphone store that was next door.

Freij calls the location “slammin’. You get the building across the street, the nightlife, the Destination [boutique store] crowd, the subway, parking — you get everything.”

He hopes Diner 24 secures a place in the community as a neighborhood restaurant. “I want to be here for at least 20 years,” he said.

Florent Morellet conceived of his namesake restaurant, Florent, on Gansevoort St., to offer New Yorkers around-the-clock dining without a scene 19 years ago. The Meatpacking District reminded him of Les Halles in Paris where he once lived. The classic 1950s style diner, complete with a neon sign, red vinyl stools, a Formica counter, metal walls and breakfast at all hours offers great food with a French flair. Their most popular dishes, Evelyne’s goat cheese salad and steak frites, satisfy diners at all hours. While once catering to meatpackers, homosexuals and transvestites, Florent’s clientele has evolved to include an eclectic mix of artists, celebrities, clubbers and night owls.

“It’s amazing how my restaurant unites people from such different worlds,” said Morellet. He reflects on a time when a housewife from Arkansas with a blue tint to her hair enjoyed lunch while at the adjacent table a skateboarder with blue hair dined. The clientele remains diverse because of the convenience — it’s generally easy to find parking in the area, reasonable priced food and press coverage. “We have great reviews in guide books,” said Morellet.

Florent will deliver lunch, but then you miss out on the great people-watching scene. Many people have tried to classify Florent as a diner, a French bistro or American cafe, but the owner is pleased with its latest title of New York Institution. Florent offers four different menus throughout the day including a children’s menu. The Web site www.restaurantflorent.com includes the menus, reviews, travel tips and links to community events, organizations and other Meat Market businesses. Florent originally opened as a 24-hour-a-day restaurant, but during the recession it closed between 5 p.m. and 9 a.m. Within the last year, he reopened as a 24-hour place to get the business from the Meat Market’s new club scene. Morellet said he manages the around-the-clock schedule with reliable employees and managers.

While Florent does not accept credit cards, the new Diner 24 welcomes them. Neither accepts reservations.

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