Back in the day when writers were king, Elaine's was the place for book parties. That's how I first came there, to celebrate new publications by George Plimpton, Kurt Vonnegut. Bunches of us cabbed over from director Robert Altman's memorial service at Radio City Music Hall, to hang out and reminisce with his widow Kathryn, with actors who all cherished the memory of working with him, Lily Tomlin and Marisa Berenson among them. Everybody loves Elaine's (to echo the title of a book about her legendary restaurant) for these memories of a bygone era, now officially marked by Elaine Kaufman's passing.
More recently, Patrick McMullan had a gathering there with all the tables pushed aside and banquettes set up for lounging. The downtown Warholians came uptown to Elaine's. Bobby Zarem entertained clients there and I remember stopping by the table chatting with James Franco at a time when he was offered the script of On the Road, in a previous incarnation, before the project went to Walter Salles to direct. One night I snapped a shot of Elaine with Michele Lee showing off a ring, a gift from Elaine. The place was as important for industry updates, as it was home to Elaine's friends.
On a random night, Elaine would be there, a grand pasha. She loved my pal Roger Friedman who always had his birthday there, and she would send over a special cake, a special bottle of bubbly. Or course she was generous, but most memorable was her rancor. Seeing stragglers work the room, she would caution them against sitting unless dinner was ordered at once. I'm told she could be violent, expelling offenders to Second Avenue, but I never saw her that way.
For me, the bark was worse than the bite. She pegged me with her owl eyes to make sure I knew the score. She cautioned me against toasting with a glass of water. That's bad luck, she instructed. The glass had to contain something intoxicating, some brew. And one night I made the mistake of asking her what was good. The veal chop she said without missing a beat-insisting upon the most expensive item on that night's menu, one that would ensure its place around a person's heart when eaten before bedtime. Insulting her, I ordered “Dani's salad” an antipasto salad I named for a French journalist who used to ask it: fresh arugula, cheese and salami, a meal that I thought would be less heavy for 'round midnight. Winking, the waiter knew exactly what I wanted. I wish I had ordered the veal chop. Even as she scolded me, there was always a friendly edge. While the food could be merely okay, the nourishment was always great.