Video

The Day Florent's Hostess Met Her Match

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Darinka Chase, the hostess with the amazing beehive hair. Zena Barakat/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Zena Barakat/NPR

Manhattan's meat-packing district used to be just that: A few blocks in New York City choked with butchers and wheezing freight trucks.

Today, however, the neighborhood is a well-known and trendy spot for some of New York City's fanciest shops and restaurants. (Think "Sex and the City," which some people blame for the neighborhood's demise.)

When I walked around the Meat Market on Sunday, I saw a sign bolted on a building for a long-departed tenant: "Lambs Unlimited." Underneath, people ate brunch on white table cloths to music set by a turntable DJ. On the next block, a Helmut Lang store. Around the corner, Restaurant Florent.

Founded in 1985, Florent is set to close on June 29. The landlord raised the monthly rent from $6,000 to $30,000, and owner Florent Morellet's counter-offer of $18,000 was not accepted.

Watch our video (it's also after the jump) about Morellet and the closing of this beloved downtown mecca.

And here's a story that's not in the video, about the only celebrity who ever flummoxed the hostess . . .

When you watch it, you'll meet Florent's dinner hostess, Darinka Chase, who has worked at the restaurant for the last 22 years. Before I met her, people told me I just had to talk to Darinka, "The woman with a beehive." No one told me her name without mentioning her hair. And when we spoke, she told me that a few months back she saw Amy Winehouse at a table.

You should know that Darinka is not fazed by celebrities. The restaurant is frequented by them over the years: Michael Stipe, Madonna, Calvin Klein, many others and the policy is to treat them like everyone else. And that's probably what keeps them coming back.

Back to the story. Darinka sees Amy Winehouse and gets flustered. This star has a different effect on her. All she can manage to say to her is "Hi." Darinka told me in disappointment, "I couldn't even say 'I like your hairdo.'"

The Florent video, in full:

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What a terrific portrait, Zena. As someone who remembers the bad old days in the Meat-Packing District--fondly--I say a big thank you.

I am so happy to see that Florent himself is ready to move on. As you say, it's the rest of us who have to let go now.

Sent by Sarah Goodyear | 9:53 AM | 6-5-2008

Florent seems like quite a jewel. I am sad I will never get to go. Thanks for the great portrait.

Sent by Emily Colligan | 12:20 PM | 6-5-2008

I remember going to Florent for the first time on September 12, 2001. It may have been the 13th or the 14th, actually -- the week was such a blur for me days really didn't matter. Anyway, I remember that Darinka stopped at our table to talk, to make sure we were doing okay -- and she called me "honey," which made everything better for just a little bit. I've been back to Florent so many times since -- for the food, of course, but also because it reminds me of the one thing that seemed normal and constant that week. I always felt warm and comfortable there, no matter how loud and raucous it would get. Thanks for the burgers, the escargot and the comfort.

Sent by Matt Martinez-NPR | 12:28 PM | 6-5-2008

My first meal in NY was at Florent. After an insanely long day of travel I was famished, light headed and a little overwhelmed with the enormity of the city. The food was delicious and the atmosphere put me back at ease. What a lovely way to introduce a midwestern kid fresh out of college to the greatest city in the world. I can never think of NY without thinking of Florent. For me they are one and the same.

Sent by Dan Nordskog | 5:46 PM | 6-5-2008

bless you, florent.

Sent by kevin redman | 5:10 PM | 6-25-2008