Reporting Marla Diamond
NEW YORK (AP/CBSNewYork) – Famed restaurateur Elaine Kaufman, owner of one of Manhattan’s most iconic restaurants “Elaine’s,” has died. She was 81.
A statement issued by the restaurant’s representative said Kaufman died Friday at around 12:20 p.m. at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. She suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension.
An Elaine’s regular for many years was Woody Allen, who filmed a scene for “Manhattan” at the eatery. Most recently, Kaufman and her namesake establishment had a cameo in the film “Morning Glory,” starring Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton.
Critics noted that ordinary tourists got less-well-placed tables and paid Cadillac-style prices for Chevrolet-style food, but Kaufman said detractors and celebrity-watchers alike made too big a deal out of the place. “I think a lot of people just come in to have dinner,” she said. “And you have a good time. A good bottle of wine, a nice plate of pasta –_ I mean, that’s life.”
Still, there was no denying that she steered less-interesting people toward the back room.
“Elaine does not consider herself a snob,” Washington Post writer Sally Quinn wrote in 1970. “It’s just that she has an idea of the kind of place she wants to run and the kind of people she wants to see there.”
Kaufman told Quinn: “You don’t have to be a writer to have the kind of personality for a restaurant like this. … We have a butcher who comes in with his wife every week. It’s just that the people who come here are a little more sophisticated but not pretentious sophisticated.”
The following is a statement from the management at “Elaine’s”
Elaine Kaufman, owner of the storied New York City restaurant, Elaine’s, died today, December 3, 2010, at Lenox Hill Hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. She was 81 years old.
For the past five years, Elaine rallied against chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension, complications of which eventually claimed her life.
The quintessential larger-than-life New Yorker, she was Runyonesque from the start. Born on February 10, 1929, she spent her childhood in Times Square, hung out backstage at theatres on- and off-Broadway and devoured New York’s daily newspapers
Throughout her teens, Elaine worked after school at the now defunct Stampazine/Bookazine in Times Square where she began her career hobnobbing with the celebrities of the day and reading her way through the inventory. After high school she held a wide variety of jobs but it was not until she fell in love with restaurateur/writer Alfredo Viazzi that she found her true calling as restaurateur. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, they ran Portofino together in Greenwich Village. When the romance ended, she went uptown.
In 1963, she opened Elaine’s on Second Ave and 88th St. It was legendary from the start, and, as legend would have it, it was a writers’ place from the beginning. She took care of a group of struggling writers and reporters who would come to define their generation and become its voice. Mailer, Styron, Vonnegut, Shaw, Plimpton, Talese, Ephron, Morris, Halberstam, Hamill. She served them dinner, hosted all night poker games and listened to their troubles, all without charging them a dime. When they hit big, they would pay her back. And, they did.
Elaine was a force of nature. She loved life, creativity and, by her own admission, “people who do things.” For 47 years, Elaine’s was a power zone where movers and shakers of every stripe from the city, the country and the world gathered. It was immortalized in Billy Joel’s song, “Big Shot.” While it remained a staple for writers, editors and reporters, it also became home to American and international film stars, screenwriters and directors; presidents, priests and politicians; painters and poets; athletes and CEOs; rock stars and composers; cops, and sometimes even robbers.
On September 11, 2001, her restaurant became ground zero for police and reporters investigating the World Trade Center plane crashes.
Until she was hospitalized several weeks ago, she continued her schedule of working seven days a week, greeting her patrons, getting the scoop, cheering for her beloved New York Yankees in the playoffs and leaving when the doors closed in the wee hours of the morning.
“Elaine was greatly loved by me and her entire staff. It was an honor and a privilege to have worked with her – one of New York City’s greatest personalities — for 26 years. Most of all, it was a lot of fun,” said Diane Becker, manager, Elaine’s restaurant. “Elaine’s was the big love of her life and the restaurant will continue to be open for business at 1703 Second Avenue with her staff fully intact.”
Elaine Kaufman was named a New York “Living Landmark” by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2004. She is the recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. Her life and times were chronicled by A.E. Hotcher in “Everybody Comes to Elaine’s” (HarperCollins, 2004).
She appeared as herself in a number of films and Elaine’s was featured prominently in the opening scene of Woody Allen’s classic film, “Manhattan.” Most recently, she made a cameo appearance in “Morning Glory,” starring Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams.
She was loved by her family, her staff and her numerous patrons, young and old alike. She will be greatly missed.
And New York City will never be quite the same.