Elaine Kaufman, 81, the colorful New York City restaurateur whose East Side establishment, Elaine's, became a haven for show-business and literary notables and is mentioned in almost every one of Stuart Woods' novels, died Friday.
Ms. Kaufman died at a Manhattan hospital of complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and pulmonary hypertension, according to a statement issued by the restaurant's representative.
She was a veteran waitress and cafe manager in Greenwich Village when she bought a small bar and restaurant near the corner of Second Avenue and 88th Street in 1963.
Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, and George Plimpton quickly became regulars, and over the years the glitterati joined the literati. Even Jackie Onassis went there.
"It offers an ambience of camaraderie that is centered on Elaine herself. She's the den mother there," Talese said in 1988 of the mother figure in a tentlike dress. "It's like a boardinghouse: You've got the round table, and you don't need a reservation if you're a friend of hers."
Ms. Kaufman would allow out-of-work writers to eat for free, said Bobby Zarem, a longtime friend who is a public-relations specialist.
Critics noted that ordinary tourists got less-well-placed tables and paid Cadillac prices for Chevrolet food, but Ms. Kaufman said detractors and celebrity-watchers alike made too big a deal out of the place.
"I think a lot of people just come in to have dinner," she said. "And you have a good time. A good bottle of wine, a nice plate of pasta - I mean, that's life."
Ms. Kaufman was born in 1929 in the Bronx ("My mother never told me we were poor") and never went to college. In a 1970 Washington Post profile, she said she started out working in cosmetics sales and began her restaurant career to help out a friend. - AP