LE BAIN: Before working for The Standard, High Line and Le Bain, you started at Florent, which was the coolest thing happening in the meatpacking district from the mid 80's to the late 90s...
GATES OTSUJI: The first time I went to Florent was in 1991, after a long night (and morning) at Palladium. I worked there for almost ten years, as the Night Operations Manager. My job was to take care of people, and create a fun, welcoming atmosphere where anything and anyone could happen. I think the best thing about the job was never knowing who was going to come through the door next: it could be the guy who lived around the corner, or someone you went to grade school with, or an international celebrity, and they were all welcome, all treated the same.
Photo by Neil Aline
Could you share some of your greatest memories working there?
There used to be a club called RSVP, in the neighborhood, and one night, a group of kids came in, with an RSVP business card that had my name scrawled on it. They said they were told to ask for me, and when I looked at them again, I recognized one of the girls, there with her boyfriend. It was a slower night, and we sat them toward the back. We apologized for having to begin our nightly cleaning, and kept their drinks full. When they got up to leave, all the tables had been pushed aside, and our porters had just swept the floor. It was then that Chelsea Clinton and her boyfriend spontaneously began waltzing, and danced their way out the front door. Regardless of what you may think of Bill and Hillary, they’ve raised a wonderful daughter.
Florent was also famous for being a hot spot for the drag scene...
Of course, we had a lot of nightlife regulars. Three, in particular, used to do the door at a legendary club nearby, and they would always come in after their night. I’d change the music when I saw them at the door, and they’d get up and start vogueing on the counter, and we’d eventually get other people up on the banquettes and chairs. One night, the entire crowd was on its feet. Just as the song ended, and these three had struck their final poses, a completely unrelated regular, dressed to the nines in fabulous drag, strutted through the front door, marched down the aisle to the final beats, grabbed a menu & plopped herself down at a table in the middle. Perfect, spontaneous timing that couldn’t possibly have been planned better.
Photo by Neil Aline
One last anecdote?
Another night, a guy called for take-out. I took his order, and asked for his name. He replied, “Vin Diesel”. I laughed and told him to ask for Clint Eastwood, when he came in to pick up his food. Twenty minutes later, Vin Diesel walked through the door, eyed me up and down, and asked, “You’re Clint Eastwood?”
From Florent to the Standard, High Line, your career is a good parable of the evolution of the Meatpacking neighborhood, from the underground drag scene to the power of glamour. Any nostalgia?
Nostalgia? Sometimes. I certainly miss the element of surprise and the diversity that the neighborhood had to offer back then, but I really can’t complain about the Meatpacking District’s popularity; after all, I encouraged it. The changes can be exciting, too. It’s still a neighborhood of possibilities; it’s just more crowded now, so sometimes you have to pay closer attention to see them.
From left to right: Mezcalerito, Cosmopolitan and Mona Lisa
Could you pick one cocktail which would incarnate the spirit of Florent in the early 90s?
Honestly, and I don’t mean to be predictable or cliché, it would have to be the Cosmopolitan. That cocktail was everywhere, and Sex And the City only made it more popular. Sarah Jessica Parker was a regular at the restaurant, and we knew that every Sunday, the restaurant would empty out when HBO showed The Sopranos and Sex And the City. Then, when the shows were over, the restaurant would suddenly fill up again, and everyone would want a Cosmopolitan. The best ones are a very pale pink, light & fluffy, like cotton candy in a glass.
Cosmopolitan: In an ice-filled shaker, combine 2 oz Ketel One Citroen, 0.75 oz Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao, 0.75 oz fresh lime juice, 0.25 oz simple syrup, and a barspoon of cranberry juice. Shake it like you mean it, and fine-strain it into a chilled martini glass. Garnish it with a lemon twist.
And one cocktail that you think could embody the spirit of Le Bain, summer 2015?
I have a feeling that Mona Lisa is going to be the winner this season. It’s light on the palate & goes down easy, which is perfect for summer, and it’s a brilliant, mouthwatering red. We’ve had a such a long, heavy winter in NYC this year, that I think a lot of people are looking for a carefree, easy-going time of it, now that we finally have some warmth.
Mona Lisa: In an ice-filled shaker, combine 1 oz Belvedere, 1 oz Aperol, 0.5 oz fresh orange juice, 0.5 oz simple syrup. Shake & strain it into a highball over fresh ice & splash it with prosecco. Garnish with a couple lemon wedges, squeezed over the top & dropped into the glass.