Located adjacent to New York’s most historic LGBTQ+ neighborhood, The West Village, and bordered by a working waterfront and piers, the Meatpacking District became a haven for the LGBTQ+ community in the 1970s. As the meatpacking industry declined, gay bars, nightclubs, and sex clubs began to fill the former factory spaces, including the Zodiac, Cycle, OK Coral, and the Mineshaft (a famous BDSM club frequented by the artist Robert Mapplethorpe and the French philosopher Michel Foucault). The Mineshaft was depicted in the controversial 1980 film Cruising, directed by William Friedkin and starring Al Pacino, which garnered protests and praise for its representation of the gay community. A year after the film’s release, the first reported cases of AIDS were in New York, which would cast a pall over the area as a destination for unbridled sexual behavior.
The abandoned piers were popular cruising grounds and attracted gay and trans sex workers as police were raiding queer bars nearby (the piers also attracted artists like David Wojnarowicz and Gordon Matta-Clark, who famously carved holes into the walls and floors creating site-specific sculpture).
In 1985, the restaurateur Florent Morellet opened a 24-hour diner, called Florent, in the old R & L Restaurant building at 69 Gansevoort Street. Florent quickly became a destination for the LGBTQ+ community and hip downtown nightlife-goers, who reveled in the vibrant atmosphere and free-flowing cocktails (among other substances). Morellet, who often dressed in drag and was a constant presence at the restaurant, was also an AIDS activist (he famously posted his T-cell count next to the daily specials). He was also instrumental in advocating for the creation of the Gansevoort Market Historic District in 2003. Florent closed in 2008, a victim of the neighborhood’s rising real estate pressures.
Gansevoort Market Historic District: State and National Register of Historic Places Registration Form (2007).
Gansevoort Market Historic District: Designation Report. New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (2003).
The High Line website
Off the Grid. Village Preservation blog.