Two years ago today my great friend, Elaine Kaufman, the surrogate “mamma” for hundreds of devoted and dedicated fans passed away after two weeks in an induced coma at Lenox Hill Hospital. I wish I could say it was a great way for a great woman to leave us, but I think she knows — up at that big party in the sky– the hole her exit has left in all of our lives.
The Elaine’s crowd continues to wander around New York as if we were in the desert. Some have gone to Neary’s at 57th and First Avenue, but basically we are a doomed tribe. The magic of Elaine’s was Elaine, who we knew with 99% certainty was at her table and waiting for us anytime between 9pm and 2am. She greeted some warmly and others gruffly, but she was there, and a plate of spaghetti or a properly mixed martini was always waiting.
They say it’s the “city that never sleeps” but really only Elaine’s never went to bed. Especially in post-recession New York under Mayor “Mr. Suburbs” Bloomberg, the energy of the late night city has been dissipitated beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. Say what you will about Ed Koch, but it was under his first administration that New York produced most of the culture is thrives on today.
Everyone asks me what happened to the restaurant after Elaine passed. She had only distant relatives, so her estate was left to a manager who did not have the temperament to run an eatery for an unruly crowd. She sold the place and the buildings around it within six months of Elaine’s death. Elaine always thought the place would continue after her, her name being the lure. But everything is demolished now. The interior artifacts were sold off at auction.
What do we have left of Elaine? Plenty. The more recent crowd started the Table 4 Foundation in her memory, raising money for young writers. The crowd that goes way back (and for me, that’s only until the early 80s–the restaurant opened in 1963) has memories and photos and great relationships that were born under Elaine’s watchful eye.
She didn’t have kids but she was a nuturer. We thrived because of her. A big smile would spread across her cherubic face every time a great romance or successful business deal sparked because it “started here.” People were married there, or left together, agents were found for writers, scoops were discovered by journalists. The buzz was always contagious. The tone was set by Elaine.
Tonight the faithful will meet at Neary’s and it will be a long night toasting our displacement. But the real toasts will be to Elaine herself, who left her indelible mark on all of us.