|City||New York City|
Established in 1963, Elaine's is famed both for the writers and other prominent New Yorkers such as Woody Allen, William J. Bratton, Mia Farrow, Clay Felker, Helen Frankenthaler, Joseph Heller, Norman Mailer, Peter Maas, Robert Motherwell, Chris Noth, George Plimpton, Mario Puzo, Sally Quinn, Mark Simone, Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Jared Faber and Sidney Zion, who had been regulars over the years, and for its late chain-smoking namesake and proprietress Elaine Kaufman, who ran the restaurant for over four decades. Other visitors to the establishment included Leonard Bernstein, Michael Caine, Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Mick Jagger, Willie Nelson, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Luciano Pavarotti, Eli Wallach and Elaine Stritch, who served as bartender in 1964.
The restaurant was noted for its Oscar night, where celebrities and visiting Hollywood stars congregated to watch the Academy Awards ceremony.
The quirky owner, Elaine Kaufman, was known for not mincing her words, for booting less-favored customers to seat new arrivals and for forbidding hamburgers in her joint. She was once arrested after a physical altercation with a visiting Texan. Elaine also once had a fist fight with the actress Tara Tyson and then claimed that the thespian had set her ablaze with a lit cigarette. She also once chased away the notorious paparazzo Ron Galella by hurling two garbage can lids at him and exclaiming, "Beat it, creep... you're bothering my customers".
Billy Joel immortalized the establishment in his song "Big Shot" (1978), supposedly about a date gone wrong which included a stop at the eatery, with the lyrics, "They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine's".
The opening dinner scene from Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) was filmed at the restaurant, as was a scene from his later work Celebrity (1998). There is a short sequence in the film Morning Glory (2010) of Elaine Kaufman herself at the bar of Elaine's (where the producer played by Rachel McAdams is trying to track down the television host played by Harrison Ford, and Elaine relates at what time he left). In the hit comedy Big Business (1988), to divert a mismatched set of twins (played by Bette Midler and Lily Tomlin) from upsetting an important shareholder vote, Midler's alter-ego character offers to take them to Elaine's.
Elaine Kaufman appeared in an uncredited scene in the 1970 film The Boys in the Band. She is seen waiting on a street corner with "Emory". He is holding a pan of lasagna and gives Elaine a double-take in response to her somewhat deadpan expression.
On May 10, 2014, The Moth Radio Hour featured old pre-recorded monologues about experiences they'd had at Elaine's by George Plimpton (featuring his introducing Jerry Spinelli to writers, editors, and director Woody Allen at Elaine's, two months before Houghton Mifflin published Spinelli's first book) and Plimpton's friend José Torres (who recounted an anecdote he'd shared at Elaine's, about conquering his fear the first time he faced a white man in the boxing ring).
In 2003, New York City banned smoking in restaurants. Kaufman claimed to have quit smoking several years earlier but was unhappy about her customers' being forced to forgo tobacco at their seats.
Elaine Kaufman died from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension on December 3, 2010, aged 81. Kaufman willed the establishment to longtime manager Diane Becker. Becker later explained her reason for closing the restaurant: "The truth is, there is no Elaine’s without Elaine...the business is just not there without Elaine."
In late 2013, The Writing Room, owned by Michael and Susy Glick, proprietors of the nearby boîte, Parlor Steak & Fish, opened its doors in Elaine's old space, featuring the prior restaurant's original famed canopy.
- Enid Nemy (December 3, 2010). "Elaine Kaufman, Who Fed the Famous, Dies at 81". The New York Times. Retrieved December 3, 2010.
Elaine's, in fact, was a scene, a noisy restaurant and bar celebrated as a celebrity hangout that all but shouted "New York" to the rest of the country, if not the world. For Billy Joel, in his 1979 hit "Big Shot", the very name connoted the uptown in-crowd. ("They were all impressed with your Halston dress/And the people that you knew at Elaine’s.") And in the new movie Morning Glory, with Harrison Ford, Diane Keaton and Rachel McAdams, the indomitable Ms. Kaufman herself makes a cameo appearance.
- Heilpern, John (June 2009). "Dining (and Duking) with Elaine". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 4, 2010.
- Ross, Barbara (March 21, 2013). "Actress Locks 25m Mansion Sale". NY Daily News. Retrieved April 10, 2013.
- The Moth Radio Hour. WNYC. May 10, 2014.
- kludt, Amanda (May 2011). "Elaine's to Close Six Months After Founder's Death". Retrieved October 10, 2011.
- "Reviving Elaine's Without Elaine". New York Times. December 8, 2013.