After 23 years they will shuffle off their mortal coil – tells a postcard one of the waiters at Restaurant Florent in New York’s Meatpacking district hands out to the customers who haven’t heard yet.
The neighbourhood once poor and known for its slaughterhouses and packing plants has become one of the most popular neighbourhoods – the in place of New York’s dining, wining and nightclub scene.
In the 1990ths the process of transformation has started with some high end fashion boutiques, followed by fancy restaurants and lofts for the upper class people who were fed up with living in SoHo (which already went through this transformation process some earlier years and got a boring place to live in for those people always looking to be the first in the last place to make it last as a first place).
When Florent Morellet opened his restaurant at 69, Gansevoort Street, he was thrilled by the verve that swayed the Meatpacking district and though didn’t heed the fashion calls. “I decided to open a restaurant that if possible didn’t need any design; a place that was already in existence, and looked as though it had been, and would, be there forever,” he writes in a supplement to ‚The Villager’ on the 20th birthday of his restaurant in 2005. Eating at this place you can observe that he succeeded. There is plenty of atmosphere emerging from the staff and the customers, eating and chatting, and maintained by the idea of what happens at an original community place: a bunch of interesting people creating an atmosphere. Not a fashioned ambience trying to attract people.
Finally, this was not enough. Money drives. And that’s especially true for New York. After having struggled for years Florent has to give up end of June, The rent has quadrupled (from 15.000 $ to 60.000 $ per month) in the wake of the rising Meatpacking district as New York’s in place.
His restaurant has become a metaphor for a process that is discussed widely among sociologist with lots of emotions and intellectual engagement on all sides of the argumentation thread: the gentrification. The term describes a process in which deteriorated neighbourhoods attract different kinds of investments so that more and more middle and upper class people move in, houses are renovated and sold or rented for much higher prices. The whole neighbourhood and its parts increase in market value. And as one frequent result the former residents have to leave. They can no longer afford a living there.
One can interpret this as an urban renewal process. But it is often followed by segregation of groups of population in ‚ins’ and ‘outs’. The former mixed and often poor but creative people have gone. Upper class standardization moves in. When Florent opened up his restaurant as a place that „didn’t need any design”, a place that „looked as though it had been, and would be, there forever”, he could have talked about the whole Meatpacking district. And he indeed exactly talked about this process of changing neighbourhoods that become a beauty spot, but very boring. Diversity is missing where the new generally displaces the long-established.
If a person dies we go trough the five stages of loss: from denial to acceptance. That’s what they are doing at Florent till closing day. It will be the 28th of June, the day of acceptance. Walking along Gansevoort or other streets of the Meatpacking district I have to admit that I will probably stick to the fourth phase: depression.