Friday, May 20, 2011
REQUIEM FOR ELAINE'S: THE DEMISE OF COOL INTELLIGENTSIA
Last night a few cohorts and I went to Elaine's. I've lived in New York for nine years now, and I'd never set foot in it.
It's a storied New York institution born in 1963. For decades, proprietor/ringmaster Elaine Kaufman ran the joint, always sitting at her table, making introductions between authors, actors, cops and journalists. Elaine's was featured prominently in Woody Allen's movie "Manhattan" and name dropped in Billy Joel's song "Big Shot".
Elaine passed away at the age of 81, six months ago. And sadly, now her restaurant is set to close on May 26th.
As the scene in "Manhattan" shows, Elaine's is from an era when sitting with friends at an understated restaurant, having a drink and talking about interesting shit was the height of cool. Imagine that! It was cool to be smart. It was cool to try to impress your date with your varied cultural references. You quoted Camus and pretended to have read Kierkegaard's lesser works. You saw Bergman films at art house theatres with uncomfortable seats. You had a collection of rare jazz records you showed off in your dimly lit apartment.
And sure, maybe at a certain point this became insufferable. Maybe as my mom always says, "When you talk too much shit you get bad breath."
But it's sad that we've moved so far away from this era. When my guy and I walked outside of Elaine's last night and said goodbye to our pals, we strolled down 2nd Ave for a bit. We ran smack into a gaggle of stupid hoochie bitches dancing around their SUV. The doors and sunroof were wide open and they were blaring Ke$ha. They were starving for attention: some of them grinding up on each other, some of them singing; their arms pumping up and down out of the sun roof. When we didn't stare at them as much as they wanted, one of them pointed at us and shrieked at my guy: "You need to go home and FUCK HER! FUCK HER HARD! She wants it! She so fucking wants it! FUCK HERRRRRRR!"
It was tragic.
So he said politely, "Thanks for the tip, ladies" as we kept walking past.
But oddly enough, their pathetic grab for attention and unsophisticated approach to getting it made me think of Elaine Kaufman. Unlike these morons, Elaine got plenty of attention by creating a lively art salon in her restaurant. She took the opposite approach. She cultivated a cult of clever. She fostered an atmosphere where witty, talented people reigned supreme.
Elaine Kaufman became (in her words) "a fucking icon" by making smart people cool.