The first—and last—time I went to Elaine's, it was 1999. I was a wide-eyed editorial assistant who subsisted on cocktail olives and hors d'oeuvres as I tried to forge a journalism career in New York City. A bigwig at the magazine where I worked at the time procured a reservation for a few of us underlings as a reward for our service.
Marveling at the old-school décor and pricey menu items, we tried to act unimpressed when Woody Allen and his new wife Soon Yi were seated at the table next to us. And when Elaine Kaufman herself stopped by our table to ask us who we were, we proffered our boss' name in order not to incur her wrath.
"Ah," she growled, cracking a smile. "Tell him I said hello."
It was this loyalty to her regulars—writers and editors, mostly, but also actors (Jack Nicholson) and rock stars (Mick Jagger)—that made the Upper East Side establishment the de facto living room for luminaries for more than four decades. And it's also the reason why Elaine's will never be the same now that she's gone: the food and the atmosphere were secondary to Kaufman's colorful presence. And while celebrity chefs are in no short supply these days, there's not one who works a room as thoroughly she did.
How important do you think a front-of-house personality is when it comes to a restaurant's popularity? What about sustainability? Do you think diners—celeb and non—will still flock to Elaine's?