Sunday, May 29, 2011

Loungerati Special: Last Call at Elaine's

Eff at Elaine's
 As we reported back in December, restaurateur and scene maker Elaine Kaufman passed away at age 81. Last week, the new owners decided to close the place permanently but not without a party fitting for Elaine. Loungerati's Eff, a regular, was able to get the last open reservation at Elaine's and reports from the inside of legendary New York restaurant on her final night.

It’s been said “For the regulars, what Momma (Elaine Kaufman) created was more than a scene. It was a family, a club without dues, a dinner party with a glittering guest list.” So, how to acknowledge the close of a nearly half century culture of friendship, celebrity, drinking and fine dining? It seems only proper to do so with a last Elaine’s. Wouldn’t ya say?
As if granted only one phone call, when I received word that Elaine’s would be closing this week, I knew precisely what to do. And with a call to Elaine’s new owner Diane Becker, I snagged the last available reservation for dinner, on the very LAST night at Elaine’s.  Ms. Becker proposed the bar’s last call would be at 4AM. We hoped it would never end.

Truth be told, I was granted three phone calls, not one. I knew how to use my next two: one was a call to work to take the subsequent Friday off. The third and final call was to Loungerati diehards Mr. Gotham and his missus, burlesque queen Grace Gotham, who first introduced my soon to be wife China Girl and me to Elaine Kaufman and her ‘home’ four years ago. The comely duo accepted my request for the honor of their company that night and off we went.
As my wife and I approached 2nd Avenue on the warm May night, we were greeted with a mob-scene of paparazzi, media vans, and on-lookers outside. 200+ bystanders were congregated in front of the venerable restaurant: snapping pictures, catching glimpses of the jet setters,  and trying unsuccessfully to sidestep security to get inside Elaine’s. It was nothing less than a heart pounding experience to bypass the insanity by whispering ‘the right word’ at the door and being invited inside. Once in, another level of scrutiny ensured folks were ‘in the right place’: if staff didn’t know you by face, you were escorted back outside regardless of reservation. It was easier to board an EL-AL flight.
The Gothams were already seated at a primo four top by the front of the saloon. We squeezed through the crowd and joined them, quickly ordering a first round: champagne for the ladies, a Dewar’s on the rocks for Mr. Gotham and a single malt Rusty Nail - my signature kickoff beverage when at Elaine’s.   Our appetizers included the delightful calamari, beef carpaccio, two dozen oysters on the half shell, and Elaine’s signature baked clams. Entrees included fettuccine with scallops, China Girl’s off-menu linguine a la vodka, linguine with clam sauce, chicken limon, and an order of Elaine’s heavenly cream tortellini to be enjoyed family-style. With full bellies, the clock striking Midnight, and the next day off, together we settled in for the long haul – the promised 4AM last call.
Several bottles of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne later, it was Elaine’s as usual - which is another way of saying that anything could and would happen. Our handsome friend Alec Baldwin made the rounds visiting tables. Dr. Ruth was schmoozing and reminiscing. Before too long, I was introduced to legendary writer Gay Talese and together we lamented the closing. Actor Chris Noth was hamming it up with China Girl, who proved herself more than capable of witty repartee.  Former NYPD commish Billy Bratton and his wife Rikki Klieman were present. Speaking of Police, about two dozen officers were called to break up the ever-growing crowd, but not before someone lit a full-fledged smoke bomb to clear them first (we briefly thought the building was on fire- it was THAT smoky outside).  
Artist De La Vega appeared outside to chalked up the exterior glass with “They were all impressed with your Halston dress…” but not before getting caught in the act by my camera from inside Elaine’s.  Speaking of artists/designers: Vivien Westwood, Brioni, Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Robin Rotenier, Tiffany and Co., Brooks Brothers, and yes, vintage Halston were all duly represented at our table.  We were the Angolo do Modo!
Desserts came around (oh Elaine’s pecan pie!) and a little caffeinating to further boost our spirits as we passed the 7 hour mark! In a fun Loungerati exchange, Elaine’s staff asked our table to sign a copy of their “Everyone Comes to Elaine’s” book, only to have us retaliate by pulling out a copy and having them sign ours!
In another typically ‘untypical’ Elaine’s moment, a bartender, just past Midnight, stood up on this chair, cursed out the management, quit on the spot, and stormed out with his “I closed Elaine’s” tee shirts he generously had made with the intent of gifting to attendees (fear not, we caught up with him later and scored a few!).  It goes without saying that there was mass chaos and confusion BEFORE this occurred. But imagine after wards – with the bar shutting down hours before the final celebration was over!
In that defiant gesture by the bartender, came the final irony. Unknowingly, when attendees finished their drinks in hand which was rather early into the last evening of Elaine’s, they were through.  For there was no last call at Elaine’s that night.  It never happened, and (now) will never happen.
Which I suspect, is precisely how ‘Momma’ would have wanted it.

Some pictures of the night courtesy of Eff and Mr. Gotham:  
Elaine's was packed to the gills
Mr. and Mrs. Gotham
Best seats in the house

Alec Baldwin making the rounds

Last Supper
Paparazzi outside
Last Call

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