Time passes, new generations arrive, and we try not to forget that there was a woman who ran a restaurant for 47 years that changed lives. She changed lives. Elaine Kaufman, proprietor of Elaine’s, passed away today in 2010. She was 81, legendary and beloved.
The restaurant was memorialized in movies, from Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” which pushed its fame over the edge in 1979. Elaine created an atmosphere for famous writers– George Plimpton, Terry Southern, Lewis Lapham, Gay Talese, Pete Hamill, Nora Ephron, Nick Pileggi, Mike McAlary, Peter Maas, and so on so many– and movie people– Robert Altman, Jack Nicholson– I mean you couldn’t make the lists here, they go on and on.
Elaine glowed like a beacon in the night. She was tough– yeah, she threw you out if you didn’t order some food, there was no drinking at the tables– but it was tough love. How else to explain these people who came from literally everywhere to this obscure corner at East 88th St. and 2nd Avenue just to see what was going on? She loved us, and we loved her. Her memorial brought speeches by her pals Elaine Stritch and Liz Smith, among others, to a room packed with stars and just regular people who basked in her warmth.
At Yankee games, where Elaine sat in the owner’s box, she liked a vodka and a hot dog. In the restaurant, she enjoyed Chateau Simard. At Christmas she sent us all blocks of good cheddar cheese and a bottle of really good Port. She made us better people– “see [fill in the blank celebrity]– what’s wrong with you, go over there, say hello.” I always say, that’s how I met Dave Brubeck. And Phil Spector. And Greg Allman. And Robert Altman. And, and, and…
So raise a glass today to Elaine, and stay up late! She loved to stay up late. “Where you going? It’s just 1 o’clock! Did you try the pasta?”
Tonight Elaine is hosting that dinner, with Liz, Elaine Stritch, Plimpton, all of them. There’s smoke filling the place and you can’t smell the food, some bartender is feeling the handle of a bat just in case, and Steely Dan is playing on the stereo. Elaine is showing off her Yankees World Series earrings and all is good in heaven.
photo courtesy New York Times