The emails began flooding my inbox — Elaine Kaufman, the beloved proprietor of Elaine’s had passed away. Moving into my 386 square foot “two bedroom” Upper East Side apartment in January 2004, I was riding high on a Woody Allen kick. Imagine my surprise when, after watching Manhattan, I walked two blocks and found Elaine’s.
At the time, the warm inviting glow was too intimidating for me to step up to the bar — I was 23, and Elaine’s is designed to steer the young rabble-rousers to O’Briens… After a few years in the hood, I finally made the journey. Inside, who would I see but Elaine herself, holding court with Tony Bennett. From that night on, Elaine’s became a special occasion location… the place I took people for a real slice of New York. Here are a few of my favorite moments…
Excuse Me Buddy
Back in 2006, my good friend Paul Ryan made his way to Manhattan for a visit, nothing unusual. Only, this time, I said: “let’s hit up Elaine’s, I’ll bet we see someone famous.” We arrive, grab a beer (price ranging from $5-$9 depending on the day) and soak up the vibe. As always, the atmosphere took over, and we forgot why we were there in the first place. As I am waxing poetic about sharing a bar stool with the ghosts of Andy Warhol and Truman Capote, a diminutive man stepped-up behind Paul (who stands at 6’1″), put his hand on Paul’s back, and says, “Excuse me buddy.” That familiar voice struck a cord instantly, it was Tony Danza, followed by a smiling Chris Noth.
A Rainy Round of Old Fashions
Last Christmas, I gave my fiancé’s Mom “Everyone Comes to Elaine’s.” On the inside cover, I wrote “the next time you come to NYC, we are hitting up Elaine’s.” Sure enough, Jeanne made the trip, and we found ourselves sitting at the front table sipping Brandy Old Fashions. After a few, we paid-up and took a step toward the door — just then, a violent storm broke out. After taking one look at the rain pounded awning, we did an about face and went right back to our table. Well, Elaine saw the action from her table, and sent over a round on the house. It’s not every day a person you read about in a book buys you a drink… we rode our Old Fashioned streak deep into the rainy Manhattan evening.
Bonfire of the Martinis
Long-time friends Tony and Anca joined us for a Sunday evening cocktail. Seated one table back from Elaine, we immediately recognize a dapper gentleman in a white suit with a matching hat (placed on a wall hook). As we took in the live music, 79-year-old Tom Wolfe thrust his martini glass to the sky, gestured to the bar without looking up, and continued his conversation with the energy of a 23-year-old beat writer. New York City is about randomly sipping cocktails alongside, arguably the greatest living author while, as Page Six noted, the former head of the CIA belts out some tunes.
Elaine’s Gift, Elaine’s Table, Elaine’s Bling
Riding my passion for Elaine’s, I decided to create a painting of the restaurant. While I was painting, Elaine’s chef came by and said “Elaine will love this.” A few months later, Erin and I strolled into the bar, grabbed a drink, and told Kevin (the bartender) we had a delivery for Elaine. Moments later, Elaine invited us to join her at her table. She took a moment to admire the painting in person (she saw it on my phone at some point), and ordered up a round. While we were chatting, Erin noticed Elaine’s New York Yankees bling. Elaine motioned to her finger and removed a diamond encrusted World Series Ring (she had matching earrings), and let Erin and me put it on. This was an ironic and symbolic moment for yours truly — the last time I saw Elaine alive, I stopped by to share my condolences for the loss of her close friend, George Steinbrenner.
The moment I heard the news, I had to smile — Elaine, George, Andy and the gang are now reunited, sipping a cocktail at Elaine’s new location, much further uptown.