In Honor of Pride Week, We Reminisce About Florent With its Longtime Hostess, Darinka Chase
Florent closed its doors three years ago, but Gay Pride Week still doesn't feel the same without it. The week was always a big deal for Florent Morellet's iconic Meatpacking District diner, which served as a LGBT community center of sorts. The restaurant was a popular place to meet up during and after the Pride parade, and in 2006 Morellet himself even served as one of the parade's grand marshals. And Florent closed its doors, of course, on the last day of Pride Week 2008.
Although his restaurant was synonymous with Morellet himself, Darinka Chase was probably its second most recognizable face. As Florent's hostess for much of its 21-year existence, she greeted most of the people who came through its doors at all hours of the day and night. And as the wife of Café Katja co-owner Andrew Chase, she knows a thing or two about the alchemy behind a successful neighborhood restaurant. So to commemorate Florent's distinctive role in Gay Pride Week, we spoke with Chase about her memories of working at the restaurant, and Pride Weeks past.
What sort of significance did Pride Week hold for Florent?
In the documentary they made about him [Florent: Queen of the Meat Market], it's very poignant. He talked about being the parade's grand marshal and said it was the best day of his life because he's political in general, and he was marching with Bloomberg and Hillary [Clinton] and Christine Quinn. In the movie he said he doesn't miss the restaurant and was ready to move on, but the first time he missed it was Gay Pride the following year. Everyone used to go to the restaurant to meet there, and he kind of felt like, "Where are we supposed to go?" And he felt sad for the first time. New Year's Eve, Bastille Day, and Gay Pride were a holy trinity at the restaurant. [laughs]
What was the restaurant's atmosphere like during the parade?
A lot of people wanted to work because you would just see everybody. We did an abbreviated menu because it was almost like a party from the beginning to the end; it was like a theme the whole day. At Florent, any excuse to wear a wig was fine -- we always had a party for Wigstock, too -- but that day was a really good combination of fun and politics. That's one reason why Florent chose it as the last day we'd be open: A lot of people came together for those two reasons at Florent. Gay Pride was one of the big ones.
What was your first Gay Pride parade like?
I moved here in October 1984, and my first job was at One Fifth. I got the job and a couple of weeks later the gay parade came down Fifth Avenue. It made me so happy I moved to New York; I was in heaven. I thought, this is so much fun. Thinking about it now, AIDS was just -- I don't know if it had even been named yet. Larry Kramer lived across the street from One Fifth and I remember that his play The Normal Heart had just come out, and Larry and the actors would come in to have something to eat. It was around that time when Gran Fury and other activist organizations were starting up; it was an intense time, and there were a lot of changes for the gay community.
When I was at Florent, there were a lot of times I missed the actual parade because I was at work, but for so many reasons it was great to work there because everyone came by. Not just gay people -- it was usually on a Sunday, and there were a lot of people who came in on Sundays. It was a fun mix, and fun to see kids seeing adults all dressed up.