Now that we've given you an overview and a history as part of our weeklong tirade versus New York's Meatpacking District, we'll spend a little time focusing on a few of the worst local offenders. Let's begin with a trio of establishments that have each contributed substantially to the Meatpacking's rise, for good or ill. And by good, of course we mean more ill. The venues in question are French diner-bistro Florent (established 1985), Romper Room dive bar Hogs & Heifers (1992), and infinitely repeatable/exportable brasserie prototype Pastis (2002). After the jump, comparison, contrast, and condemnation.
Now understand, it hurts us to be mean to Gansevoort Street's Florent. Founder and proprietor Florent Morellet really is one of the most genteel and friendly New York queens you're likely to meet, and we've spent several indecently late nights/early mornings nodding off over a platter of Florent's half-mangled home fries. And this place has legitimate neighborhood credibility, given Florent's appearance at a time when the underground clubs in the area really did get raided by the cops. And if you must go, it's a relief to find that many of the more objectionable Meatpacking dwellers rarely venture this way, especially if you hit the place at 4 a.m. or later. But really, everyone knows that Florent's days are numbered. Other, far less respectable and more Meatpacking-typical joints are popping up on Gansevoort, and sooner or later, they will crowd out and choke off original fauna like Florent. Morellet needs to either sign a 99-year lease or start examining his options to relocate out of the encroaching black hole. We want to keep that home fries option open, but we're less and less willing to hack our way through the Meatpacking District's surrounding hellhole.
On, then, to a much less beloved institution: Hogs & Heifers. This dive bar on Washington and 13th still attracts a slightly amusing though meager crowd of winos, skanks, and other hard-luck types during early weeknight evenings, but even these fringe-dwellers are repulsed by the more regular clientele. Far more common are mobs of sweaty losers from all walks of life who come for the shitty freedom rock on the juke and the oh-so-sassy barmaids. Sometimes those chicks even dance on the bar! And use profanity! We could untangle the tediously incestuous genealogy between Hogs & Heifers and other dancin' barmaid dives Red Rock West and Coyote Ugly, but who really cares. The bouncers routinely eject a certain percentage of the drunks merely to meet fire code occupancy maximums, giving each happy tourist the idea that he's a real rough customer. Let's be clear: Dive bars are not supposed to be fun. They're supposed to be depressing, which causes you to drink abusively until you think you're having fun. Anything else is a cruel joke with no punchline.
And lastly, let's look at Pastis. Restaurateur Keith McNally opened Soho's Balthazar brasserie in 1997, and its success eventually prompted the creation of Pastis in the Meatpacking District. A near-clone of Balthazar, Pastis (cloned again in 2003 for Schiller's Liquor Bar on the LES) represented one of the first heavyweight dining investments in the area, and oh how it's paid off. Much of the Meatpacking District's other development has radiated off of Pastis's corner at Little West 12th Street, spawned by relentless attention from local glitterati, visiting celebs, and brunching yuppies. Brunch is in fact the only time one should ever go near this place, and that only if you can get your ass in gear to appear before 11 a.m.; otherwise, prepare to fight with not one but two sets of clipboard-wielding hostfolk, one at the door and another holding court at a lectern in mid-restaurant. (Best advice: ignore the first person and focus on the lectern, where true seating power resides.) The coffee is still quite good, but the food is overpriced and served with mechanical tedium. After all, they know they'll pack the tables with rubes, so why bother bringing the A-game to the kitchen. Also one of the few places with the balls to actually predict a "three-hour plus" wait for a table, in case, you know, you want to wait at the bar or something.
Next in Principal Hells: Soho House.