I should have written about this three days ago, but it’s been a crazy week. Elaine Kaufman died on December 3, 2010. Four years have passed, and her friends, who were her family, have wandered like a lost tribe ever since. Elaine’s restaurant closed the following May thanks to the bad management and inattention of the woman who inherited it all. Since then the building was sold, and I’m told now it’s being flipped again. Millions have been made by other, and Elaine is gone. It’s a tragedy. And the people who really were the survivors know the real story.
Every night around 11 pm , as evening soirees wind down, I say the same thing out loud: “Let’s go to Elaine’s.” It’s said with a sigh, and I know about a dozen other people who think the same thing. Elaine didn’t come in to the restaurant until around 9pm, and when she was well and in her hey day she stayed until closing around 2am. Elaine’s was designed as a late night spot where actors and writers and police chiefs and mobsters could come in after their adventures were over and share stories.
Elaine’s was not digital. One of the big moments most nights was getting “the paper” before it was printed– whether it was the Times, Post, or News. Someone would always have an early copy, a Xerox of the front page before it hit the stands. Smart phones didn’t exist. Maybe someone would struggle to find information on one of those dark blue early Blackberrys. But really, everything was about “the paper” and maybe the 10pm news on Channel 5. What was going to happen tomorrow? We knew it in Elaine’s before anyone else did.
And the going at 11pm. You went because Elaine was there. You had no idea who else would be there. Just Elaine, sitting along the front row of tables. When you got there she was already in the middle of something great. You’d greet her, bowing down, a peck on the cheek and her usual greeting– “Where have you been?” which was not an inquiry about your health but a warning that she knew you’d eaten somewhere else two nights ago and some one had seen it and reported it back.
“Well, there was a dinner at _________ and we had to go,” I’d say. “Yeah, yeah,” said Elaine, rolling her eyes. “And now you’re back.” Because we always came back, and we were so happy to see her. “Listen,” she’d say, “DabneyColeman/Alan King/Jackie Collins/Marisa Berenson/Peter Maas”– one of them– “is back there. Go say hello.”
Her eyes, very wide and accentuated by those big round tortoise shell glasses, showed her excitement, and she was already gesturing– her right arm swung from the elbow backwards as if to say Go, go go. And you’d be plopped down with Bobby Zarem entertaining this week’s movie star, or Neil Travis regaling us with his scoop of the day, or Catherine Deneuve or Michael Caine or Phil Spector (don’t ask). And say these words: “Elaine told me to come over here.” A chair was made open immediately. And down you’d sit.
Anyway, Elaine, on Thanksgiving we had a bottle of Chateau Simard in your honor and a toast. We have no place to go at 11pm except home, which is so boring and you would hate it. Sometimes we go to Bar Centrale after theater and see a few people. But no restaurateur would ever really allow the shenanigans of jumping from table to table, coming and going, no reservations, staying for hours, total anarchy. Only you. And we miss you. A lot.