Friday, May 27, 2011

The People That You Knew at Elaine's

There was a time when writers ruled the Earth -- they roamed the cultural landscape not as the unwashed steerage class but as honest-to-God rock stars. People wanted to be seen with writers, wanted to be able to say that they had been seen with writers, wanted to drink with writers, wanted to pick the brilliant and often twisted brains of writers in the hope that whatever made them tick would somehow rub off. And for those people -- and those hallowed writers of the day -- there was only one place to go for that sort of experience: Elaine's.

Nestled high on 2nd Avenue on New York City's Upper East Side, Elaine's was a place where guys like Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Mario Puzo and Woody Allen rubbed elbows with the likes of Jackie Kennedy, Frank Sinatra and Mick Jagger. And vice versa. It existed at all times as a monument to the art of being there -- of that indescribable feeling of taking part in something grand and special and secret just by knowing the right place to go or the right people to talk to -- and as the years went by it became a tribute to a bygone era in New York City nightlife. Once again, when people with something to say, the brilliance to say it well, and the complete lack of a tether to the restrictions of polite society to hold them back spoke with booming voices.

I was lucky enough to spend an evening at Elaine's only once, but once was enough. The food was average (but no one went for the food); if you weren't a regular, the service was below-average (but aside from the chance to see the irascible Elaine Kaufman herself, no one cared about the service); but the atmosphere -- that was the ticket. That was why you went and why so many kept coming back for more.

Last night, in what reportedly felt more like a joyous wake than a somber memorial, hundreds lined up for Elaine's for the last time. At the end of it all, the place closed its doors for good.

They don't make institutions like that anymore. And if you know anything at all about the personalities that frequented Elaine's throughout the years -- you know that they belong in an institution.

The New York Times: Too Much Fun to Feel Sad at the Farewell to Elaine's/5.26.11


J. Dack said...

You just cleared up a question that's been bugging me for years.

"The Paper" is one of my favorite movies, but not being a New Yorker, I never understood this piece of confusing dialog until today:

"Donald Trump, fell out of a building, landed on Madonna."

'Then they both went to Elaine!'

That shit has confounded me for a decade.

Nick said...

I submitted a couple of items to The Quarterly c. 1988-89. Both were returned by Lish, accompanied by one of his famous, “Please know my returning this to you…” notes, the second of which included a handwritten missive to the effect of…if I happened to be in NYC at such and such he would spend a few minutes with me. Naturally I made sure I was in NYC at such and such. As it turned out we met at Elaine’s. I recall almost nothing about the place, and had nothing but coffee, though Lish did introduce Elaine as she came by our table.