Toasting Elaine, An East Side Legend

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By Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke

A bartender recalls the night Elaine Kaufman made him follow Hunter S. Thompson around the restaurant, apologizing to those offended by the original gonzo journalist"s comments. A speechwriter remembers how he would bring his dates in to get Kaufman"s approval. A maître d" reminisces about the authors who would bring Kaufman rough drafts to get her feedback.

Elaine Kaufman.

“She was a celebrity amongst celebrities. Everybody loved Elaine. Elaine got to know all the celebrities. She would protect everybody and she kept all the paparazzi away, said maître d Giovanni Adamo. “Table four in the back was the writers" table, and on Thursday night all the writers used to meet. People like Gay Talese, Bruce J. Friedman, Norman Mailer. A lot of big names.

The drinks and memories flowed on Monday evening at Elaine"s, the venerated writers" and artists" hangout, where regulars have been gathering to celebrate the warmth and wit of longtime owner Elaine Kaufman. Kaufman died last Friday at the age of 81. Since Kaufman opened the restaurant and bar in 1963, she could be seen holding court at the Upper East Side institution almost every night.

“There was a lot of interaction between tables. We would meet a lot of people we didn"t know and re-meet a lot of people we had met a long time ago, said longtime patron Eileen Miller, a photographer. “It was like going to someone"s home. Elaine"s hospitality was just amazing. And she was terribly funny.

“She was part grandma, great job counselor and love advisor. I used to bring all my dates to audition for Elaine, said speechwriter Arthur Bochner.

Bochner said Kaufman often played matchmaker. When he came to the restaurant without a date, Kaufman would always point to prospects at the bar. If Bochner expressed doubts, she would say, “Well, is she good enough for a night?

“Elaine was different things to different people. She was a great boss, said bartender Kevin “Duffy Philzone. “She was demanding but she didn"t ask anything of me she didn"t ask of herself. If she liked you, she loved you.

Elaine lived four blocks away from her restaurant on East 86th Street, between First and York avenues. “She was a neighborhood girl, said Adamo. “I am going to miss her not walking through that door every night. Come nine o"clock and I still look out that door expecting to help her out of a cab.

Like many longtime customers, Frank Kelly, an editor at Crain"s New York, came on Friday to share memories and drinks.

“It was a zoo on Friday. You couldn"t really move, Kelly said. “Governor Paterson came and it was so crowded it was almost impossible to clear a space for his security. Kelly returned with his wife, Eileen Miller, for dinner on Monday night.

“It felt like such a family that it was easy to forget sometimes that Elaine was running a business, but she never forgot that she was running a business, said Darren Grubb, a political consultant.

Memorials will be held from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, and 5-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 10, at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home, 1076 Madison Avenue.

“Someone of her stature needs all of Yankee Stadium for a memorial, said Miller. “The restaurant isn"t big enough.

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