Elaine Kaufman, the brassy, legendary Upper East Side saloon-keeper whose eponymous watering hole became an eclectic meeting place for top New York authors, journalists, cops and celebrities, died today. She was 81.
The proprietress of Elaine's, who had been in failing health, died at 12:20 p.m. at Lenox Hill Hospital, said Cindy Carway, a spokeswoman for the Second Avenue restaurant.
"Writers have never come to my place to talk about literature," Elaine told Vanity Fair magazine last year in an article about her and her bar, which became memorialized in print and in Billy Joel's hit "Big Shot."
"They come to escape writing."
Over the past five years, Kaufman rallied against chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension.
%E2%80%9CElaine was greatly loved by me and her entire staff. It was an honor and a privilege to have worked with her -- one of New York City%E2%80%99s greatest personalities -- for 26 years. Most of all, it was a lot of fun,%E2%80%9D said Diane Becker, who worked as the manager at Elaine%E2%80%99s restaurant.
%E2%80%9CElaine%E2%80%99s was the big love of her life and the restaurant will continue to be open for business at 1703 Second Avenue with her staff fully intact.%E2%80%9D
Born on February 10, 1929, she spent her childhood in Times Square, hung out backstage at theatres on- and off-Broadway and devoured the city's daily newspapers, including The Post.
"When I was a child, living in Queens ... The New York Post used to print a series of reproductions of famous paintings," Kaufman said once. "For a few dollars, you could buy good reproductions. And that's what my sisters brought into the house. They were on all the walls."
She opened Elaine%E2%80%99s on East 88th Street in 1963 and it instantly became the place where writers loved to down beers.
Kaufman took care of a group of writers and reporters who would come to define their generation -- including Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut, Gay Talese, Nora Ephron and David Halberstam -- serving them dinner and listening to their stories during all-night poker games.
Kaufman, an avid art collector, also appeared as herself in a number of films and Elaine%E2%80%99s was featured in the opening scene of Woody Allen%E2%80%99s classic film, %E2%80%9CManhattan.%E2%80%9D Most recently, she made a cameo appearance in %E2%80%9CMorning Glory,%E2%80%9D starring Diane Keaton, Harrison Ford and Rachel McAdams.
Until she was hospitalized last month, Kaufman worked every day of the week, greeting patrons at the door and leaving at closing time in the wee hours of the morning.
"I live at the restaurant, I entertain at the restaurant," Kaufman told The Post in a 2009 interview. "I come [home] just for myself. This is where I unwind, where I read and watch my favorite Western movies on TV."
Kaufman was named a New York %E2%80%9CLiving Landmark%E2%80%9D by the New York Landmarks Conservancy in 2003. Her life was chronicled in the 2004 book, %E2%80%9CEverybody Comes to Elaine%E2%80%99s."