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Di Fiori Marquet Cafe closes after 22 years - time for historical preservation?

NYC Village restaurant, Di Fiore Marquet Cafe closes; is time for historical preservation?
NYC Village restaurant, Di Fiore Marquet Cafe closes; is time for historical preservation?
Leeann Lavin

The headline on Eater.com reads “Union Square Stalwart Di Fiore Marquet Café Shutters.

Reporter Devra Ferst conscientiously reported on the loss of a favorite, “all-day Mediterranean” neighborhood restaurant, citing this Examiner’s 2011 Food and Drink review of Marquet Café’s exceptional homemade Brooklyn Merguez sausage. (http://www.examiner.com/review/greenwich-village-s-di-fiore-marquet-caf-...)

In the same way, Jeremiah's Vanishing New York blog reported on Marquet’s demise.

In addition to my comment, Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York blog received these personal, heartfelt comments:

DE FIORE MARQUET arrivederci...Well, i did eat at De Fiore Marquet: ALL THE TIME. I called it "the Annex" at one point and would opt to eat there over Gotham's corporate atmosphere any day (even if i won the Lotto). I still cannot figure out where to eat brunch without go East or West. The piece on Celeste is spot on. i let her know she put the village back in village when she took over the French bakery. There is a Closed/Sorry sign apologetically attached to the front door and no further information to be divulged publicly. This establishment is already sorely missed. Jack's was a boring cafe with tasteless food that i hardly noticed (open or closed), but De Fiore Marquet, especially in the period when the fabulous lesbian chef was whipping up her Brazilian specialties, has been a necessary part of my daily life without anything in the vicinity that comes close. It seems to be truly the end of an era in my "no man's land" neighborhood between east and west villages.

And:

How sad! I worked in the area for 15 years and now nearly every place I loved has or is disappearing. Now this!

Fiore de Marquet was a wonderful cafe, and Madame Celeste was a lovely woman, who created a charming eatery for us. 

Places like Marquet are part of the joys of living in NYC that are being swallowed up - by what, exactly that adds to the quality of NYC life?

I'm not opposed to change but as I prepare to be evicted from my own building, I wonder if I'll really mind leaving the city, after experiencing the gentrification up close. Fiore de Marquet got caught in it too, I'm afraid.

And:

I don't know why Marquet closed, only that it's been darkened under scaffolding for quite some time, due to the construction of parking garage turned high-end luxury condo building 17 East 12, where the owners consider 12th and University to be "one of the most sought-after areas of the city," reminiscent of "the historic Gold Coast."

The block is changing. In addition to 17 East 12, the Bowlmor building is going luxury condo, too. The stationery store shut down recently, chains are moving in. And let's not forget the loss of 12th Street Books back in 2008.

Grub Street, New York Magazine’s Food and Restaurant blog, reported on the closing too, citing this Examiner’s reference to Celeste as the downtown Elaine.

It was easy to revere Madame Celeste; telling discrete stories of the artist cohort who patronized Marquet Café over the years.

She told this Examiner the restaurant even earned status as a character in the Jay McInerney novel, “Bright Lights, Big City.” As an author and wine columnist for House & Garden and The WSJ McInerney was such a regular to the restaurant that he wrote in the De Fiore name as a player in the story line. Celeste laughed when recounting how her extended family asked -- with much – if she or any of the family were really involved in the drug underworld and club scene!

There were the other famous downtown denizens who loved frequenting this stage-set of a French Village eatery, including Meryl Streep, Sean Penn and Giada’s mother in law, -- as noted in the Examiner article.

The legions of publishers, editors, writers, painters, filmmakers and actors, and the local food and art enthusiasts from The New School, Forbes, and NYU – along with the extended family of neighborhood patrons were the backbone of this 22-year old restaurant.

Eateries don’t get to add notches like that if they can’t deliver the goods.

And Marquet did it in spades. Every day. For decades.

Celeste would take the MTA bus from Riverdale (she loved her gardens there) to Marquet in time for breakfast.

The restaurant was open to serve straight through lunch, and dinner and brunch on Sundays.

No wonder it was a favorite hangout – it was like visiting Mom’s kitchen.

One ommenter on the Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York blog wrote she ate there “ALL THE TIME”… referring to the home away from home as “the Annex.”

We’ll surely miss Madame Celeste’s nurturing of all things artful – from food to writing to painting to taking care of the regulars. She showcased local artists fine art on the walls and sold them, often holding and storing the paintings for the new owners long after the payment was given to the struggling artist.

In yet another instance of neighborhood kindness and support, one evening, I watched as Celeste made certain an elderly man who walked in with the help of a cane, got his usual take out wrapped and safe to take home.

She fretted about what would happen to these kind souls when she was no longer there to take care of them. She knows their favorites, likes and dislikes just like Mom…

It was more than “just” a restaurant.

Saving Local Restaurants: Historic Preservation, Meet Restaurant Preservation

As sad and frustrating the closing of DiFiore Marquet Cafe is to absorb it is the inevitable shuttering of more restaurants to come.

This Examiner recently attended a panel discussion presented August 5th (prior to Marquet shuttering) by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, which was billed as “A conversation about how – and whether – to try to save the bars, cafes, and restaurants that matter to our neighborhoods and our culture.”

The panelists were: Robert Perl, president and owner of Tower Brokerage, Inc. – a real estate firm; Mimi Sheraton, a James Beard journalism award winter, food writer and restaurant critic for The New York Times, the Village Voice, food and travel writings for Vanity Fair, Town & Country, the New Yorker, and author of 16 books; Robert Sietsema, senior restaurant critic at Eater New York and author of New York in a Dozen Dishes will be published spring 2015; and Stacey Sutton, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation.

It was a lively discussion, spearheaded in large part by Sietsema’s colorful clown disguise --billed as a “devil mask” (clowns scare me so clown/devil is c’est la meme chose) He wears the mask to protect his identity – proving restaurant reviews is not for the faint of heart!

“Not since Roman times have so many been so interested in food,” lobbed Sietsema.

Sietsema drove the conversation with his modest proposal that a committee – perhaps choosing 30 or so restaurants every year that would be deemed “worth preserving.”

The preservation committee would help the restaurant owners in trouble on a few fronts: legal, disaster recovery, negotiations with “capricious landlords” and the city council.

“We need to preserve the iconic restaurants for future generations,” he advocated.

While Perl said he “shared the feeling very much to preserve our culture,” the problem of who will control it is a moral one, suggesting, “The law of intended consequences will prevail.”

Perl laid out that any successful restaurant figures out its rent as a percentage of margin and can often absorb those costs – along with labor and food costs -- and pass on to customers so that when a restaurant closes claiming it’s the rent increase – it is more often than not an excuse – covering other flaws.

Perl went on to explain that often, restaurant owners have more money than the landlord, citing Danny Meyer and his Union Square Hospitality Group as an example.

One got the feeling Perl likes using this “enlightened” example because it’s revealing.

“Danny is so respected – but his company is funded by private equity, hedge funds and they want return on their investment,” suggesting this is the reason that a beloved restaurant such as the company’s namesake Union Square restaurant might have to leave the neighborhood due to rent increase. They just don’t want to pay increased rent based on their business model and need for greater return on their investment, according to Perl.

Hmmm…

Amid many references to some already closed but not forgotten favs including Papaya, Katz’s, John’s Pizza, Lombardi’s, McSorley’s, and PJ Clarke’s, the talk turned to preserving the “setting” rather than the restaurant.

Sheraton said this would allow subsequent owners the freedom and ambition to create a restaurant that is truly theirs.

She cited Graydon Carter’s successes with The Waverly Inn, Beatrice’s and Minetta Tavern as good examples of this preservation strategy, just as the Plaza’s Oak Room.

Another suggested strategy was to take a social media vote – where eaters match chefs with potential owners…

It was also discussed how restaurant turnover in New York City has always been a good thing in the long run – changing demographics and immigrant groups invariably change the makeup of a neighborhood. This is not gentrification but new cultures that add to the mosaic that is Gotham.

Perhaps not so curiously, New York City has a “disproportionate” amount of owner/operated businesses – to the tune of more than 85% -- whose businesses are independently owned. This is what gives Gotham “character” and quality.

But one thing no one could deny is that the restaurant chains and big banks and retail stores seem to be the most likely candidates to afford the spiraling rent rates.

And this dynamic carries with it the twin evil of absentee owners and managers who do not care about the neighborhood.

It was agreed by all that big chains destroy the personality and charm of a neighborhood and its lifestyle.

The panel also urged the audience to “vote with your wallet. Frequent the restaurants you love.”

One never knows when they will shut the door for good.