The recently defunct Florent is still remembered as a panacea of cross-cultural, inter-generational, omni-sexual utopianism in the form of an all-night diner. Maybe it’s just that I’ve seen a certain number of documentaries about beloved and/or infamous Manhattan establishments, but at a certain point during Florent: Queen of the Meat Market I began to wonder if every dumpy little dive that ever set up shop within the vicinity of Greenwich Village qualified for the cultural crown, simply by virtue of being at the epicenter of that aforementioned panacea. I mean, really, is this not just a place where you could get eggs and bacon at 5 a.m. on a weeknight and still expect to maybe have that rare thrill of getting asked by a transsexual hooker no longer particularly compelled to tuck their dick in if you could please pass the hot sauce? Yes, you could sometimes find yourself sitting next to Andy Warhol or Ethan Hawke or Julianne Moore, but couldn’t that be said of any other nearby establishment? I’m sure you really had to be there, but was everything in this neighborhood more important and relevant than anything in any other neighborhood ever?
As it turns out, Florent makes an equitable case that, yes, this glittery greasy spoon situated next to the meatpacking district and, not coincidentally, a handful of thriving leather bars represented the perfect confluence of elements that define the New York experience. Or at least it once did. Florent Morellet, a self-described American who just happened to be born in France, was the spatula-wielding impresario who managed the restaurant for 23 years during the city’s apocryphal period from disco through the AIDS crisis. Morellet announced his HIV-positive status in the late ‘80s, a move that the documentary depicts as a breakthrough in visibility. Eschewing that era’s paranoia, Morellet would sometimes jocularly post his T-cell count on the daily specials board, which is endemic of the spirit of his creation.
David Sigal’s documentary may not quite manage to canonize the diner, at least not to flyover country, but it sure makes it sound like a good meal and a great time. More importantly, though, Florent‘s depiction of the diner’s closure amid a New York City caught up in brutal, remorseless gentrificaton manages to bring a first-person urgency to a story I’m sure we’ll keep on hearing until nothing is left but a series of colorless, chain-owned, no-shirt-no-shoes-no-tucking establishments.