UPPER EAST SIDE — Elaine's is gone — but the storied Second Avenue saloon's spirit is still alive in its latest incarnation.
The Writing Room, a 120-seat restaurant, opened Wednesday night at the site of the famous former Upper East Side haunt frequented by celebrities and literary titans. Well-known proprietress Elaine Kaufman died in 2010, and her namesake restaurant at 1703 Second Ave. closed a year later after 48 years in business.
While it’s difficult for some to imagine another establishment in the space, owners Susy and Michael Glick are committed to paying homage to Elaine’s without trying to recreate it.
“We’re just trying to open a great restaurant,” said Susy Glick. “But we do appreciate the history of the space. It was a magical place for a lot of people, and they have strong opinions about it."
Photographs from Elaine’s heyday adorn the walls, and a 1,000-book library features works by many of the same authors who frequented Elaine’s, including Norman Mailer and George Plimpton.
One thing that is decidedly different about The Writing Room is the food. Woody Allen, who ate dinner at Elaine’s almost every night for a decade, once declared the food to be “terrible from start to finish.”
The Glicks, however, are hoping for most positive reviews.
They brought over Lucas Billheimer, the head chef from the Glickses' popular Upper East Side restaurant The Parlor Steakhouse. Billheimer designed a menu that features upscale versions of classic American favorites, such as baby back ribs with apple butter barbecue sauce and an herb-brined buttermilk fried chicken.
Susy Glick said that opening night went even better than she had expected.
“Some of the Elaine’s regulars were here, sitting at the bar, which brought a special feel to the night," she said. "A lot of our regulars from The Parlor also came out to support us, which was wonderful because they are really the people we are catering to."
While the building's famous façade has been restored, the inside of the restaurant has been reimagined. The white tablecloths have been replaced by wooden tabletops, and a leather banquette wraps around the edge of a brighter, more open room.
The bar area features fabric-covered panels that the owners hope will spark a new literary tradition. Customers are invited to post quotes, remembrances and ideas to create an evolving work of art.
"When people feel they were a part of something," Susy Glick said, "you know it was a special place.”