Florent Says Good-Bye Again

By Al Amateau and David Noh | Florent, the pioneering Meat Market restaurant on Gansevoort Street that served meatpackers, club kids, drag queens, celebrities, and just plain folks for 23 years before it closed in 2008, is re-created in David Sigal’s documentary “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market,” a tribute to the bistro’s owner and fusser-in-chief, Florent Morellet.

After winning the 2009 Audience Award as a work-in-progress at New Fest, the city’s annual LGBT film festival, and premiering last year to a cool mix of unregenerate party folk who once habitually sought sustenance there, “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market” opens at Cinema Village on May 20 (22 E. 12th St.; cinemavillage.com).

Sigal and his crew began shooting the film in January 2008 before Florent was definitely sure that his landlord at 69 Gansevoort was going to triple the rent and force him out of business. During the course of the filming, the fate of the restaurant became clear, but Sigal continued filming until the last day — the last minute, in fact, during the early hours of Sunday, June 29, 2008.

The film includes archive photos from 1985 when Florent started the restaurant, and interviews with celebrities, including Julianne Moore, Isaac Mizrahi, Diane von Furstenberg, Michael Musto, Sylvia Miles, David Rakoff, Robin Byrd, Penny Arcade, and Christo and Jeanne-Claude, among many. It intercuts old footage and new, fast-motion time lapses and talking heads. The film even includes a scene or two from more than a decade ago of an event where HIV-positive men and women filled the restaurant with their naked bodies.

Viewers who want to see and hear Florent himself will not be disappointed. He’s there, recalling how he responded to the news in 1987 that he was positive and how he decided to go public with it. He talks about how the Meat Market changed since he first opened the place. He talks about his partnership in the group that owns the decommissioned fireboat John J. Harvey and how the boat supplied the water for the Fire Department response to the World Trade Center attack.

“I’m glad I’m being kicked out,” Florent says in the film. “I’m being kicked forward.”

At last year’s premiere, the indefatigably charming radical elaborated on that point, saying, “I’m feeling good now, so many things going on. I really was programmed the first year Florent closed to think about another restaurant, but now I want to concentrate on my artwork. I just came back from my show in Tuscany and am doing another in Amsterdam. I’m writing more, too, and I turned 57 yesterday, so now just want to enjoy life, my friends, and partner [of four years], Peter Cameron, a wonderful man. We met on Nerve.com; he’s a novelist whose book ‘City of Your Final Destination’ was filmed by James Ivory.”

Still, in “Florent: Queen of the Meat Market,” he concedes, “It was an absurd mix of people, a crazy mix. I’m going to miss it.”