Tonight, or this morning to be exact, Elaine’s will close at 4am after 47 years. Since the announcement was made ten days ago, a bunch of regulars have been sitting vigil. I’ve been there since returning from the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday night. In Cannes, Lars von Trier (the nutty self proclaimed “Nazi”) showed a film called “Melancholia.” The characters are assembled at a beautiful English estate, waiting to see if a rogue planet will crash into Earth and kill everyone. This is what it’s been like at Elaine’s since she died on December 3rd. Without Elaine Kaufman, we argued, there is no Elaine’s. We sort of believed it but hoped we weren’t right.
It reminds me of the end of a fictional place, Cheers, on television. Of course, Cheers didn’t really exist. But the people who went there were family. Elaine’s is known for its celebrities, from Woody Allen and Michael Caine to Chris Noth and Dominic Chianese from “The Sopranos.” But the people sitting sitting around now, waiting for the world to end, are not famous. They–we–are the regulars. Some of them, like Josh Gaspero, who founded Golden Books, have been there for almost 40 years. Others, like Ash Bennington who works for CNBC, are youngsters with just five years under his belt. I started going to Elaine’s in the early 1980s, became a more frequent customer in the later part of the decade.
When I arrived, there was a transition. We were changing guard from the writers like Norman Mailer and Peter Maas, who’d been the stalwarts of Elaine’s in the 70s. When Woody Allen made the place famous in “Manhattan,” everyone wanted to see what was going on. If you managed to get a table, you could be seated next to Woody or Tony Roberts, or Diane Keaton, or Kurt Vonnegut, Robert Altman, Alan King, George Plimpton, Rona Jaffe, Nora Ephron, Lainie Kazan, Lorna Luft, or Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Bobby Zarem or producer Marty Bregman.
That’s all well and good. But it’s the relationships with real people that no one will forget. From Elaine’s there emanates an infinite spider web of friendships, business associations, acquaintances, hook ups, romances failed and successful. Show biz types are abundant, but there are plenty of cops, and robbers, and doctors, lawyers, bankers, and even New York City’s retired fire marshall Louie Garcia. (We joked with Louie last night that he’s like Norm in “Cheers.” At the center of everything: Elaine’s best pal for thirty years, Father Pete Colapietro of Holy Cross Church in Times Square. Last night, with tears in his eyes. he gave a moving farewell speech to the Elaine’s staff, to all our friends, instigated a standing ovation to his “Big Mama.” Then he sang a little Bertlolt Brecht for the occasion:
Oh moon of Alabama
We now must say goodbye
We’ve lost our good old mama
And must have whiskey … you know why