By Peter Haskell

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A legendary Upper East Side institution known for celebrity sightings, a familial ambiance and a famous reference in Billy Joel’s 1979 hit, “Big Shot,” is closing down after more than 40 years years of business.

Elaine’s is shutting its doors.

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For decades, Elaine Kaufman held court there over a handpicked selection of favorite regulars, literary luminaries and celebrities.

Longtime manager Diane Becker inherited the restaurant after Kaufman’s death in December.

But she says the place just couldn’t survive without the woman who was its driving force.

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Says Becker: “The truth is, there is no Elaine’s without Elaine.”

The Second Ave. eatery will shut its doors for good on May 26.

“I’m enormously proud of the waiters, the bartenders and the entire staff who have worked so hard with me to keep the place open and going since Elaine’s passing in December,” Becker said. “But it’s simply not a viable situation.”

Kaufman had a soft spot for writers who were trying to make it big, and often let them eat for free.

Among those who did make it big were Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton and Gay Talese.

Mayors, artists and celebrities including Jackie Onassis, Michael Caine and George Steinbrenner also frequented the restaurant.

In “Big Shot,” a song from Joel’s 1978 album 52nd Street, he mentions the famous eatery, singing:

“And they were all impressed with your Halston dress/And the people that you knew at Elaine’s.”

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)