BY PATRICK HEDLUND | Just as celebrated restaurateur and gay advocate Florent Morellet was shuttering his famed Meatpacking District diner for good on June 29 after months of speculation over the space's fate, news broke that the landmark property's owner planned to reopen it immediately as a restaurant - with the same menu and staff that Florent had.
Joanne Lucas, whose father owned the original R&L Restaurant at 69 Gansevoort Street before Morellet started there in the '80s, reopened the eatery last week with the plan of retaining Florent's staff and French menu - but minus the man himself. Morellet and Lucas battled in court earlier this year over rent payments before he decided to leave, and the bistro had reportedly been shopped around to big-name retailers such as Ralph Lauren eyeing space in the newly tony neighborhood.
There's been speculation that asking rent at the 3,000-square-foot space - reportedly between $50,000 and $70,000 per month - was too steep for prospective tenants, making restaurant use the most viable option, considering the recent increase in traffic there.
Far from the cynical reactions to this news posted online after Eater.com broke the story, Morellet himself sees the decision as the best possible one given the situation.
"It's kind of a wonderful twist," he said after Florent served its final meal, adding that Lucas told him she turned down a retail offer that would have included a million-dollar gut renovation of the space. "Isn't it better that she cashes in on what I did than she cashes in just on the real estate value?" he mused.
Morellet gave his blessing to the retro R&L and any staff deciding to stay on there, and said he would take up Lucas' offer to return to his former restaurant for a meal.
"Everyone should see this as the best outcome," he declared.