This is what people who used to go to Elaine’s say to each other on the occasion of an accidental meeting: “Where do you go now?”
It’s as if there’s a secret, and it must be shared.
Elaine Kaufman died five years ago on December 3rd. You’re asking, why did I wait to mention it until now? I just couldn’t do it. I thought about it, but it seemed like I needed more than a minute to think about Elaine, whom we miss so much.
A bunch of people did get together at Neary’s on December 3rd, organized by Peter Khoury of the New York Times. Neary’s is way east on 57th St. I was all the way downtown and west at some event. It was too hard to get there. So already you know what’s changed. Because back in the day, no matter where I was at 11pm, Second Avenue and East 88th St. was just a cab ride away.
Five months after Elaine died, the restaurant closed. The regulars know why it all happened, we discuss it regularly. There is a lot of anger. One day maybe the story will be told, how Elaine came to her demise. And then the restaurant, too. But truth be told, those months after her death were really weird. You’d sit there and kind of wait for her to come back through the doors.
And little by little, things started to disappear: the flat bread on the tables, the waiters. We were being sent a message.
But I digress.
Where do we go now? Nowhere. There is no way to recapture what Elaine gave us. She gave us home. And on New Year’s Eve, when dates didn’t work out and nothing you planned elsewhere clicked, you gravitated back to Elaine’s. The place was jazzed up with ornaments and lights and balloons. There was a golden cast over the mundane tables, and live music. People you saw all year were dressed up.
And there she was, Elaine in her tent dress, sparkling, holding out hope for the new year. “We’ve been waiting for you,” she’d say. “What took you so long?”
Happy New Year, Elaine.