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A Final Farewell to Elaine's

Elaine's Restaurant.
Elaine's Restaurant.
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Joe Corrigan/Getty Images

By Murray Weiss

DNAinfo Contributing Columnist

What a final night it was at Elaine’s as the legendary eatery ended one of the great runs in New York restaurant history.

The place was packed.

Just how crowded was Elaine’s?

Waiters could barely move through the crowd with drinks and food. There were lines of people outside the front door on Second Avenue as though they were waiting to get into the new hit movie by Woody Allen instead of trying to get a final look at the saloon where he was once a regular.

"I got such a lousy table," quipped Steven Levy, a security expert and another regular who was able to cram inside Thursday night. "I ain't coming back."

And neither will the cast of hundreds of other regulars who showed up to drink and dine and say goodbye to an era they were blessed — literally — to be a part of.

Elaine Kaufman attends the 11th Annual Living Landmarks Gala at The Plaza Hotel November 3, 2004 in New York City.
Elaine Kaufman attends the 11th Annual Living Landmarks Gala at The Plaza Hotel November 3, 2004 in New York City.
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Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images

"For 30 years, Elaine filled my belly and my soul,” Rev. Peter Colapietro, the pastor of Holy Cross Church on West 42d Street, announced.

Bold faced names were in the joint. Alec Baldwin. Chris Noth. Carl Bernstein. James Lipton. They came to pay their respects.

Bill Bratton, the city’s former NYPD commissioner, was with his wife, TV personality Rikki Klieman, at a table that had a photo of Bratton’s late lieutenant, Jack Maple. Maple, who sported a bowler hat and spectator shoes, famously used to map out historic crime-fighting strategies on Elaine’s napkins.

Elaine Kaufman, 81, made her restaurant an extension of her living room for nearly five decades until she died last December. "A New York institution died and a lot of our hearts went with her," said Josh Gaspero, a former book publisher and self-described "Cal Ripken of Elaine's."

Kaufman left the restaurant to her manager, Diane Becker, along with the impossible task of replacing Elaine’s presence in a hangout immortalized by Billy Joel: "They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine's."

Elaine's always found a way of introducing people to one another. It made for entertaining evenings filled with lively talk and pure conviviality that brought people back again and again.

And the wonderfully eclectic nature of Elaine's was in full force Thursday night.

"Elaine always made me feel at home," said David Paterson, the former governor.

"Elaine taught people how to live and love in New York City," said Anne Beagan, the FBI special agent.

"Aren't we having fun?" Lou Garcia, the FDNY's retired Chief Fire Marshal, rhetorically asked for yet one more night at Elaine’s.

Tom Carney, the long time bartender, walked in nimble and natty in a yellow tie and dark suit — attire few people had ever seen him in. The only person to make it complete would have been Elaine walking through the double doors

Hanging over the room was one question that was on everyone's mind as they thought about the steel gates in front of Elaines coming down like a curtain for a final time.

"Where is everyone going to go?" asked John Sabini, the state’s racing czar.

Regulars fear an Elaine’s diaspora and that everyone will go in different directions. Gay Talese felt many people would never see one another again. There are still suitors for the building and the restaurant.

"The fact is, there is no Elaine's without Elaine," Diane Becker has said.

So as the night became morning, the regulars traded business cards and email addresses, hoping to stay in touch and find a new home to fill their nights. They all hoped that while one era has ended, perhaps there will be another perch to land.