VINTAGE GOSSIP is alive and well in the elegant hands of Amy Phillips Penn, former society columnist for the New York Post. Every Thursday, Amy pens her posts with that same touch of class, making the legends and lore of a bygone era as relevant today as they were when Jackie O was queen of New York.
“What I like about Elaine’s is that it was a home away from home, and that was all Elaine’s personality.
She was not a restaurateur, she was a den mother.” — Fred Morton, The Rothschilds: Portrait of a Dynasty
When I moved to California, New York never let go of me. In exchange, I penned my memoirs of New York memories gone by and lingering. Had I planned it that way? “H” no.
When I made my first segue out of the City, I sat on the plane and thought “at least I earned a good table at Elaine’s.” Hopefully I have achieved more than that, but that was the gold star which stuck as the plane to a new chapter took off.
A writer is always in transit, waiting for the new book, column, pitch, collaboration, or positive review to tuck her in.
I have three rescue dogs. They barked in chorus today and raced down the stairs in excitement. It’s hot out, and they’re bored, but these barks meant business.
My books had arrived. Fifteen hard covers with my byline were sitting smack against my doorstep. The canine affirmation was a “welcome to my world” kind of announcement.
I loved writing and collecting essays for Elaine’s: The Rise of One of New York’s Most Legendary Restaurants from Those Who Were There. I asked Liz Smith to share her elegy of Elaine Kaufman as a preface, and she agreed. In my incarnation as a New York Post society columnist, Liz was one of my role models. She had started out as an assistant to society columnist Gigi Cassini, and in true Texas style, lassoed one of the most powerful entertainment columnists on the globe. When Liz was kind enough to mention me in her column, it made my week.
It was a time when being in the “right” columns — Liz, Eugenia Sheppard, Suzy, WWD — was a high that didn’t belong to the blasé.
I have always loved Elaine’s, and, in time, I grew to enjoy its controversial proprietor, Elaine Kaufman. We gave each other a tentative New York try, which burgeoned into a lunch date or two, and a good table when I arrived at Elaine’s.
Fate is a rock-my-world disguise in its own right.
How did the Elaine’s book come my way? I founded a group on Facebook, “Write on America.” I had no intention of starting any group; an epiphany struck hard. All the whining and fear that has insidiously dented and gnawed at America’s “don’t-F-with-me spirit” had gone far enough. It was time for a screeching U-turn.
It was the moment to gear up to fortify and reboot so much that is powerful, inimitable, and immortally American with a highlight of its writers.
Sasha Tcherevkoff, a Facebook friend, was working on a uniquely intriguing site, NewYorkNatives.com. Sasha suggested that the name of his site and my group might somehow merge or at least date. The merger was not to be. Instead, I would write a column for New York Natives, which they lacily dubbed “Vintage Gossip.” Nancy Mendelson, a powerhouse in her own right, became my supportive and knowing editor.
Writing weekly or daily, the author of a column is focused on her next subject, column, or words. An email from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc. editor Nicole Frail morphed into a metaphorical exclamation point in my inbox, beckoning me to write a book on Elaine’s. My concentration was on a current column about the Surf Club, and anecdotes about locking Mick Jagger in the liquor closet for his own protection.
A book on Elaine’s? I had always loved Elaine’s, partied through several of my birthdays there, and had dinner with friends when I revisited New York (or perhaps New York revisited me). How could I resist?
I read every book, item, sly comment, and menu that were the relics of Elaine’s.
The challenge was obvious: Writing a book about a famous restaurant and owner that were no longer here called for dramatic action. I left it to the experts: Elaine goers, lovers, fans, and the date of a regular who had told the formidable owner to “fuck off,” along with my 20-year-old self who had boldly approached Woody Allen at Elaine’s, at a time when all of New York seemed to belong to everyone.
With the guidance and generosity of a few key Elaine’s lovers and connoisseurs, Elaine’s legacy peeked out.
Thank you Jessica Burstein, Susan Morse (for connecting me with Woody Allen), Peter Khoury, and David Black for extending Elaine’s universe to me. Thank you to so many more Elaine’s fans. Thanks for the laughs: Dabney Coleman doing his Godfather imitation on the phone, Richard Johnson’s memory of a strange interlude with a famous baseball player and someone else’s date, and everyone who quoted Elaine. The New York judge gives Elaine dubbing an actress a “half a whore” a half of something irreplaceable.
There are so many more people to thank: many are inside the book, others taking a peek within. What remains is that so many of Elaine’s customers and friends truly miss her and Elaine’s. As the saying goes, ”There’s no Elaine’s, without Elaine.”
“One of my favorite lines of hers was ‘Someone’s gotta pay the real estate.
You gotta get asses in the seats.’” — Steve Walter, The Cutting Room
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