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The 25th Hour of Florent Morellet

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Amy Winehouse at Florent in 2007.  

Morellet has lived in the same spacious, white-walled loft on Lafayette Street since he moved to New York. The apartment is on the eleventh floor, with many massive windows offering panoramic views of a downtown that has been declared officially over countless times over the past three decades. It wasn’t long ago, for instance, that Morellet spent his mornings watching the slow rise of the Hotel on Rivington, the much-bemoaned glass tower that marked the end of the Lower East Side—at least for the hipsters, whose arrival had long ago marked the neighborhood’s demise to the Jews and Puerto Ricans. “I loved seeing that!” Morellet told me one afternoon at his apartment, pointing at the hotel from his dining table, where he was eating a late breakfast. “People complain about the high-rises, but I want more skyscrapers as high as the Empire State Building. I believe a city is supposed to be hills and valleys, you know?”

These days, he spends most of his time planted at this table, taking calls and preparing for the end, a file marked “Closing Flo” open on his MacBook’s desktop. He’s planning an elaborate farewell leading up to the restaurant’s final night, June 29, the day of the annual gay-pride parade. On the Monday of each of the five weeks prior, the restaurant will host a raucous party themed to one of the Kübler-Ross stages of grief—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance—featuring countertop skits and drag performances. “My staff have reached the Acceptance stage,” Morellet said. “But my customers are still very angry, still in the shock-and-awe phase of things. By the time the restaurant closes, people will have found some kind of peace.” As part of the festivities, he will be auctioning off the restaurant’s maps over eBay, with the funds to be divided among the staff, though there was one map which would not be for sale: Little Liechtenstein, which he had long ago promised to Roy Lichtenstein’s widow, Dorothy. “I called her the other day and told her about the auction,” said Morellet. “And do you know what she did? She insisted on taking part. She bought it for $25,000! Can you believe it.”

Morellet has been approached by investors in Brazil and Japan about franchising Florent, and, locally, there has been some talk of the Whitney Museum having a version of the restaurant in its satellite museum that’s part of the current High Line development. “Would I like all of that? Sure, but it is not a priority right now,” Morellet told me. After the restaurant closes, he plans to travel around Europe with his boyfriend, the novelist Peter Cameron. He also wants to write his memoir and dedicate more time to drawing maps and neighborhood activism. Lately, he’s been working with the Department of Transportation to make Prince Street pedestrian-only for one Sunday a month. “But it has been a horror! Some people can’t imagine a world where they can’t unload their cars after coming back from the Hamptons.” He shook his head, and focused once more on the immediate task at hand. “Anyway, you’ll have to excuse me now,” he said. “There is so much I need to do.” He opened his daily planner. On its first page, the Unofficial Queen of the Meatpacking District had copied the opening line of Diana Vreeland’s autobiography: I loathe nostalgia.


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