With Elaine gone, NYC literary hangout closing

May 17, 2011 - 1:42 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — Elaine's is shutting its doors.

For decades, Elaine Kaufman held court at the restaurant bearing her name with a hand-picked selection of favorite regulars, literary luminaries and celebrities.

After Kaufman died in December, longtime manager Diane Becker inherited the restaurant. She announced Tuesday that the Upper East Side restaurant will shut its doors for good on May 26.

"This is one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make," Becker said in a statement Tuesday. "But the truth is, there is no Elaine's without Elaine."

The place is filled with history — both real and imaginary.

Woody Allen opened his movie "Manhattan" with a scene set there. Billy Joel immortalized it in the song "Big Shot." Stuart Woods, author of dozens of popular mysteries, begins almost every book with his hero having dinner at Elaine's.

"I'm flabbergasted" about the closing, said Woods, whose new book, "Bel-Air Dead," is dedicated to Elaine. "I was there last Friday and Sunday nights, and there was a very good crowd."

Kaufman had a soft spot for writers who were trying to make it big, and she often let them eat for free. Among those who did make it big were Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and Gay Talese. Eventually, they paid her back.

She was known as an exceptional listener, with patrons and friends typically sticking around until the early morning hours. Her regulars were fiercely loyal.

Tables were coveted, attracting mayors, artists and celebrities, including Jackie Onassis, Michael Caine and George Steinbrenner.

Former Mayor Ed Koch, who was in office when Elaine celebrated her 25th anniversary in 1988, said after her death that even he enjoyed spotting celebrities there. Mayor Michael Bloomberg called her a New York institution.

Allen became a regular, Kaufman told The Associated Press in 1988, because "he loves to people-watch. It's comfortable, nobody bothers him, we make him what he wants."

There were complaints over the years that Kaufman banished less-interesting people to the worst tables, but she didn't consider herself a snob and argued that her restaurant simply attracted a sophisticated crowd.

"I'll certainly miss it incredibly if the place is gone for good," said Woods. "It will be the end of an era. There are going to be a lot of writers wandering up and down Second Avenue, looking for a place to have dinner."