NEW YORK -- Restaurant Florent feels as if it's been around forever, though surviving 18 years in New York may qualify as close to that. At the very least, it can be called an institution, or the grand dame of the meatpacking district.
"I wanted to be away from the main streets, but not too far from Chelsea and the West Village," explains the owner, Florent Morellet, on his choice of location. For better or worse, the mainstream has found him: Once on the fringe of civilization, near gay clubs and trawling transvestites, the restaurant is now in the heart of a gentrification boom.
"I had a nostalgia for Les Halles in Paris," the French-born Morellet says. "I wanted to open a French diner -- I love diners -- to make a bistro open 24 hours a day. All my friends thought I was crazy, but I did it."
The motto, "Florent Never Sleeps" accurately describes this place that is open 24/7. Those craving eggs and pancakes at 5 a.m. or hungry for a burger at 5 p.m. will all be satisfied.
Amid the standard American diner food (burgers, eggs, and BLTs) are many French-bistro offerings, including duck mousse pate, steamed artichokes with mustard vinaigrette, escargot in garlic butter, and fried mussels. Brunch choices, in addition to the traditional eggs Benedict and Florentine, include eggs with French black-blood sausage and a goat cheese omelet with apples and herbs.
Prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is casual, though you may miss the place on first glance. The signage above the plate-glass windows reads "R & L Restaurant" in cursive script, a remnant from an earlier incarnation. On second glance you'll spot the hot-pink neon "Florent."
The interior also has resisted renovation. The retro-hip style feels authentic because it is. A long banquet and mirrors line one wall, the counter (which doubles as a bar) with swivel seats the other.
Tables have scratched linoleum tops and seats are padded in dull red leather. (Or is it plastic?) Ropes of pearls slung across a pale pink ceiling are reminiscent of Mardi Gras or the gay-pride parade.
As cochairman of the Save Gansevoort Market project, Morellet has aided the effort to have the area designated an official historic district in New York, with the goal of preserving the architectural character of the neighborhood. He also is active in trying to bring the Flower Market to the area.
"I want to embrace change," he says of his rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. "But I also want to influence it."
Restaurant Florent, 69 Gansevoort St., 212-989-5779, www.res