Madewell, a clothing chain store owned by J. Crew, is moving into 69 Gansevoort in the Meatpacking District--the former address of Florent and, prior to that, the R & L Restaurant.
At the moment, Madewell/J. Crew is gutting the space. In the process, the antique chrome R & L signage has been removed from the facade. Will it be back? (See updates below.)
It also appears the "R&L" has been ripped from the floor by the entrance, and they've stripped off all the vintage chrome from the facade.
This space opened as the R&L luncheonette in 1938. In 1955, it became the R&L Restaurant, with the lovely chrome sign.
Owned by Ari Lucas, the R&L was a place where longshoremen and meatpackers would dine at night--they called it "Eatem and Beatem," according to the Chicago Sun, "because they would zip in and out around 3 in the morning."
Sol Libsohn, MCNY
In 1985, Lucas' daughter took over the R&L and rented it to Florent Morellet, who opened one of the first businesses to bring gentrification to the Meatpacking District--and one much beloved by a wide array of people, from uptown rich to downtown artists to leather daddies and drag queens.
On Gay Pride Day in 2008, restaurant Florent closed its doors, forced to shutter after 23 years when the landlord raised the rent from $6,000 to $50,000 per month. On his famous menu board, Morellet spelled out an optimistic thought in white plastic letters, “REAL ESTATE GOES DOWN / NYC SURVIVES.”
At the restaurant’s closing party, customers wept for the end of an era, for a place that provided a space to “political drag queens, suicidal libertines, secular surgeons, transvestal virgins, lunatic ravers, steroidal saviors, twelve-stepping two-steppers, infidel lepers, sadistic humanists, lunatic sensualists, wondering Jews, multicultural views, leftist rituals, and delectable victuals.”
Morellet later told Channel 13, “I’m all for change done the right way. But they have completely destroyed the Meat Market, the Village, and the New York I loved so much when I moved here.”
(He has since moved on to Bushwick. “Cities change,” Morellet told the Times in 2013. “Young people are going to be pioneers in neighborhoods and make them livable. Wealthy people are going to move in and young people are going to move to the next neighborhood, and the next neighborhood. We have tons of neighborhoods to rebuild. Yes, the prices are going up. That’s great.”)
After Florent, the R&L space cycled through various unimpressive, upscale restaurants and wine bars, all of them closing quickly, apparently unable to make the insanely high rent.
And now it will be a shopping mall chain. This is the way the entire city is going.
Without commercial rent control (as New York had after World War II, from 1945 - 1963), without the Small Business Jobs Survival Act, without a rezoning to control the spread of chain stores, without any protections whatsoever for small businesses in this city, New York will continue to turn, block by block, into the Mall of America, taking every last remnant of our history and local character with it.
Hopefully, J. Crew and Madewell will put back the R & L sign. It's the least they can do. But whatever they do, how about telling the mayor and City Council to #SaveNYC?
*UPDATE: A reader sent in a permit from the Landmarks Preservation Commission (PDF). It mentions the R&L sign while giving permission to the building owner to remove it--along with other historic details.
"The approved work," reads the permit, "consists of exterior alterations at the storefront, including the removal of the existing stainless steel storefront, and installation of a new stainless steel storefront ...removal of the projecting stainless steel signage." But it also mentions "reinstallation of the existing signage."
Does that mean "R&L" will return?
Another reader says, "The sign has temporarily been removed and resting on top of the sidewalk shed. I am told the plan is to reinstall once the facade repairs are complete. Thank goodness for LPC in this case."