New York City dining legend Elaine Kaufman dies at age 81
December 4th, 2010
12:00 PM ET
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New York City dining doyenne Elaine Kaufman died Friday at the age of of 81 from complications of emphysema. As proprietor of the eponymous Elaine's restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side, since 1963, she held court nightly over a star-studded scene that in its heyday, boasted writing royalty like George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Gay Talese and Hunter Thompson as well as silver screen stars including Kirk Douglas, Michael Caine and Billy Dee Williams.

While the food was widely regarded to be rather unremarkable, the restaurant found a permanent place in pop culture with it inclusion in scenes from Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' and the recent film 'Morning Glory,' as well as a notable mention in Billy Joel's 'Big Shot': “They were all impressed with your Halston dress/And the people that you knew at Elaine’s.”

For non big shots, however, Elaine's - and Elaine herself, could be some what inhospitable, relegating non-celebrities (if they could gain admittance at all) to an area nicknamed "Siberia" - far away from the glittery "line," along which was seated more her illustrious clientele. Of this practice, longtime restaurant newsletter writer and "Lutece" author Seymour Britchky wrote:

Elaine's (the restaurant) is famous for Elaine's (the proprietress's) icy, or at best cool reception of any customer she does not know. On her own territory Elaine is the boss, and she wants everyone to realize it. For this endearing trait, (and it appears this alone) the literati have made Elaine's their restaurant and Elaine their Buddha. But is there another Elaine? Under that tough veneer, is there another veneer? Does this coarse exterior conceal a heart? And if so, what is it made of?

Being the darling of any fashionable set sure can get you into trouble. The set may not realize that the darling is not so darling off her turf; on neutral ground Elaine has trouble - after all, it's tough to throw someone out when he's not in your restaurant. Elaine gets invited to parties, and when the company is sophisticated, suave and unruffled - when in short, they are not begging for a table at Elaine's - Elaine sits in a corner, going forth frequently, but only to replenish her plate, New York's most popular wallflower preserving her figure. - Seymour Britchky, from 'The Restaurants of New York'

While Kaufman herself may have been a divisive figure in the New York City restaurant scene, her larger-than-life reputation lives on. In 2003, the New York Landmarks Conservancy declared Kaufman a "Living Legend," and the restaurant will reportedly remain open.

soundoff (117 Responses)

    He invited me to dinner yesterday.What's up? Did you miss the bus? You can't go in no matter who you are.What's your favorite steps? Do you think people are a company's greatest wealth? Do you think people are a company's greatest wealth? He owned himself defeated.Make yourself at home.He has tasted the sweets and bitters of life.

    December 1, 2012 at 9:54 am |
  2. SophyB

    Well, she certainly LOOKS larger than life!

    December 14, 2010 at 12:17 am |
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    "As proprietor of the eponymous Elaine's restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side..." should read, "As the eponymous proprietor of Elaine's, a restaurant on Manhattan's Upper East Side..."

    Illiteracy at CNN. Who'd a thunk it?

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    December 10, 2010 at 10:15 am |
  4. DD

    It was at Elaine's I 1st saw the consequences of bothering someone for an autograph that was trying to have dinner & personal time with their family. Lesson learned about there being a time & a place for everything. "Celebrities" are real people who deserve the same consideration as anyone else.

    December 9, 2010 at 10:42 am |
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