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.

WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell On The Upper East Side

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.

Photo Galleries: Notable Deaths 2010 | Notable Deaths 2011

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.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.)

Comments (18)
  1. Roger says:

    Good point, Steve. It certainly could have, and should have, remained viable. But Diane was way in over her head — socially, creatively and as a hostess. If you went there after Elaine died, you could feel her discomfort in the role — and that’s not a criticism of her. She’s an introvert, or seemed to be. Had Elaine left 49% of the joint to Diane, with 51% control to someone like a Gay Talese, it could have thrived. But perhaps Elaine, in her own special way, was setting it up to fail without her. Maybe that was her final wish.

  2. smokefree1988 says:

    As NYC adds smokefree parks and beaches tomorrow, I can’t help but recall how often Elaine’s was in the press as a habitual violator of the NYC Smokefree Air Act by permitting smoking in her restaurant.

  3. Seth says:

    I sincerely doubt the old rag let starving artists eat there for free. This is one of those elitest myths they always claim after the self centered pig has died.

  4. Hart Dowling says:

    The food was mediocre at best. Elaine was the harridan from hell. Good riddance!

  5. nathan says:

    I spent my share of nights with my parents at Table 4 with all kinds of interesting and famous people. RIP to a great joint.

  6. Ralph Puccini says:

    Like the place or not, it is indeed the end of an era!

  7. Frank D says:

    The hicks from teh sticks will never know the difference and will still dump their money there.

    Dangerfields Bar had no connection with Rodney for years. But everyone thought he’d might be there serving drinks behind its bar. Duh!!

    Better yet! A la Bates Motel. Put a manequin in a rocking chair by a window with a light in back of it. Everyone will know it’s her.

  8. MR KNOW IT ALL says:


  9. Steve says:

    Makes no sense, right? The restaraunt ran fine the day before she died, and the day after. How is it no longer “viable”. Run the restaraunt. Cook food. Serve people. Take money. Done.

  10. badman says:

    I ate a big bug in a salad there

    1. Michael H. says:

      Protein is good for you.

    2. Clark A. says:

      Why didn’t you bring the ‘bug’ to the waitstaff on the spot instead of waiting until now?

      1. badman says:

        Because it was tasty. I wasn’t a complaint.

  11. Nrichard says:

    Stuart Woods is the writer with Stone Barrington

    1. J in IN says:

      1/4″ FPT Valved Quick Disconnect Coupler, f/ Vitco Grill Option

      1. J in IN says:

        Shooot for got I had copied and pasted something else before mot message that didn’t take, Sorry about that…. I had just been thinking that Woods would need to find a new hang out for the characters in his books rt before I saw your post.

  12. edy says:

    becose yu had to be a beegshot

  13. Jennifer Rose says:

    Elains was also in a lot of the John Sanders books featuring Stone Barrington

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