There have always been good reasons to find yourself at Florent -- the much-loved diner in New York City's meatpacking district that opened in 1985, when the area was still known primarily for sex clubs, tranny hookers, and meat trucks -- but the most compelling reason is that it never closes. I've lost count of the lost nights spent sitting on one of the red vinyl stools at the long countertop racing deadlines to finish a story, while being distracted by the spooling narrative of the night. As the meatpacking district began to gentrify it came to seem a minor miracle that Florent didn't disappear along with the rest of the gritty old neighborhood that was busy being Starbucksed to death, as designer shops and boutique hotels and, inevitably, a gleaming new Apple store moved in. I remember sitting at the bar early one morning and laughing at the gallows humor on the famous menu board on which someone had listed five reasons to be happy: "Number one, Baby Gap hasn't opened here'yet." That day may now be closer to hand than even Florent Morellet, the indefatigable owner, had anticipated. Earlier this year he announced that the diner that never closes is, finally, closing -- done in not by waning popularity but skyrocketing rents.
Magazines are famously guilty of surfing the zeitgeist for whatever currently passes as hot, or "V hot," to quote the once mighty (oh, how they have fallen) Tina Brown, who popularized the expression as editor of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker (these days, no doubt, she'd be saying "fierce"), and the gleaming new meatpacking district is partly our creation. We talked it up and talked it up, and every new bijoux restaurant was a cause c'l'bre for five minutes, pushing up rents and driving out the businesses that made it unique. Thanks to us, and our even more fidgety brethren on the Internet, buzz rarely seems to settle on anything long enough to immortalize it, which is what makes the passing of Florent all the more notable. The tranny hookers, the early morning clubgoers, the solitary writers didn't go because it was hot but because it spoke to them and because the experience of going there has always been communal, even if you just sat at the bar solo and soaked it all in.
The fact that Florent survived and thrived for 23 years is evidence that what makes something hot isn't that it's new but that it has integrity. You can say the same for many of the entries in this year's annual Hot List, quite a few of which go back at least as long as Florent has been in business. Jean Paul Gaultier has been a dominant force in fashion for over two decades and continues to blaze a glorious trail, both with his own line and at the helm of a reinvigorated Herm's. Alison Moyet and Vince Clarke, as Yaz, managed to release only two albums before quietly going their separate ways in 1983, but their reunion tour this summer serves to remind us of their singular brilliance. And although Manvendra Singh Gohil, the impish gay prince whose coming-out rocked the conservative values of India, doesn't appear in the Hot List, he's one hot commodity. A media phenomenon at home and abroad, his profile has brought much-needed attention to the status of gay and transgender Indians who -- in the words of Gohil's boyfriend -- are still waiting for their Stonewall.
Meanwhile -- a stone's throw from the original Stonewall -- you might just make it to Florent for a final drink before it closes. Still there, after all these years, is Darinka in her retro beehive doing the rounds of the tables, and the unmarked maps of cities on the walls (including three imaginary ones), and the numbers at the bottom of the menu board tracking Morellet's T-cell count (he tested positive for HIV in 1987). And as always, an equitable mix of straight and gay, a balance that Florent somehow always gets just right. There are still not enough places you can say that about. After Florent closes there'll be one less.
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