Few places encapsulate New York's transformation from crime-ridden metropolis to Sex and the City-fied playground than Florent, a French restaurant housed in an old diner in the meatpacking district. A 24-hour hangout for slumming A-listers and transvestite prostitutes, Florent is closing after 23 years in the face of a 2,000% rent hike. The Times interviews a dozen regulars on the end of an era.
"It was kind of like the halfway house of restaurants," says comedian Jackie Hoffman—a mixing chamber where celebrities sat alongside club kids, tourists and even Howard Dean. Owner Florent Morellet became an advocate for the neighborhood as well as a vocal AIDS activist. Its many regulars are saddened but resigned to Florent's closure—but not before a five-week blowout farewell.