When Elaine Kaufman died last December 3, she left a city of broken hearts. For months, "Elaine's" lingered on, a nostalgic haven for "regulars," but many still had to admit, Elaine's was simply not the same without Elaine. When the doors closed, finally, that simply left a stratum of the entertainment world, eh, homeless. That night, Showbiz411's Roger Friedman filmed a final night with anecdotes galore about the legendary upper east side joint, providing, along with archival interview footage of Elaine herself, enough material to keep a memorial for her, masterfully planned by Friedman and Fred Rappaport, lively for more than its three-and-a-half hour extravaganza of clips and entertainment.
The stage at Merkin Hall was set as Elaine's, comfy, with books on bookcases, the bar, bottled lined up and tables complete with blue check tablecloths. M.C. Dick Cavett spoke about taking guests from his talk show there, including Janis Joplin, when someone played her tune, "Down on Me," on the jukebox. James Lipton was a regular too, taking guests of "Inside the Actors' Studio" there for a late night supper. Sometimes the lure was more than food, he said telling a story about taking Charlize Theron there with her mother, now, eh, a widow looking for a new guy. Speaker after speaker spoke about Elaine's brash side, her soft side, and her desire to hook people up with others who could help them, especially editors and writers, some of whom were kept on a tab until their next book. Always crowded, with Elaine insisting, "This is a restaurant. Sit down and eat." Vack in the day, many a book party, for Vonnegut, Mailer, Plimpton or Styron would keep Elaine's hopping.
Columnist Liz Smith, New York Times editor Pete Khoury, restaurateur Joe Allen, rock dj Carol Miller, mystery writer Carol Higgins Clark, Father Pete Colapietro, Gay Talese, and many others paid tribute. Lucie Arnaz and Michele Lee performed, backed up by Ron Abel and his band. Elaine Stritch, down and out at the start of her career, tended bar at Elaine's. On her very first night she served a man 37 cocktails, ending up going through his wallet hoping to find a clue as to where he lived. Elaine asked, "What are you doing?" I just want to make sure this man gets home safe, explained Stritch, to which Elaine replied, "He got here, didn't he?"
The party moved on to P. J. Clarke's, where Michele Lee sang a Yiddish tune, Lucie Arnaz sang a Hawaiian song complete with hula, and Dominic Chianese sang in Italian. The establishment of an Elaine Kaufman Foundation to benefit young writers was announced, and no one was ordered to order a meal.
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A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.