Did you have a good weekend-before-Halloween? One of our favorite harvest festivals in the city happen to be in the Meatpacking District and that’s where we spent our morning on Saturday. It’s held in the little plaza off of Gansevoort and the activities and even some of the food is free as local businesses in the neighborhood donate their time and goods. The kids are at an age, as Mia rather begrudgingly observed, where they are aging out of some of the holiday events in the city, but this harvest fest is still fun and age appropriate. I like it too because it’s small and very neighborhoodly and I guess I still get a kick out of the irony of this very family and kid friendly event held right in a neighborhood that was known for sex clubs, slaughterhouses and prostitutes even as recently as 15-20 years ago. But you know…NYC has changed, yada yada.
I guess Mark has now lived in the city long enough to even wax nostalgic about the old days. He started working as a pastry cook in Soho when it had long turned touristy and expensive in the mid to late 90s, but the Meatpacking District was nothing like it is now when he took a job at a new restaurant in 1999. Fressen was one of 2 restaurants that opened in the meatpacking district at a time when you could walk around and still see blood stains and grease on the cobblestoned streets. Meatpacking plants and butcheries still remained in the area, but down from the few hundred that existed when the neighborhood got its name. It was kind of exciting to go down to the restaurant in those days when Mark worked nights. There was really nothing there – just dark streets, hand lettered signs from the meatpacking plants, and the iconic sidewalk overhangs where sides of beef hung on large metal hooks that characterized this neighborhood. All of it is gone now of course, and all replaced by high end boutiques, hotels and restaurants. Probably the last nail on the coffin to any connection in the neighborhood’s namesake was when Western Beef closed in the mid-2000s.
But I think the closing of a little restaurant called Florent in 2008 was the most devastating blow to the area to New Yorkers who liked to lament on changing times. I loved Florent. I didn’t go there as often as I would have liked, but I loved its story: the owner, a Frenchman who named the restaurant after himself and put his name in lights – pink neon lights in the front window – took over a luncheonette on Gansevoort Street in 1985. Florent was much beloved, but its fate fell like so many businesses like his; the rent was reportedly increasing to 30k a month (30k!).
I might very well be destined to become one of those old people who sit around in outdoor cafes remembering how things were back in olden times, but I admit I still rather enjoy the new Meatpacking District, especially on a brilliant October morning like this past weekend. Ironically, some of the early retailers and restaurants who moved into the area in the late 90s and early 2000s as the first wave to gentrify the area have closed up or moved on to other neighborhoods because the rent has gotten so high (Stella McCartney comes to mind, and Fressen closed some years after it opened). Seems like only the big chains like Apple can afford the rent these days.