Elaine Kaufman: steely madame of the modern Algonquin

From The Telegraph:

Elaine_1780085b Any regular who arrived at Elaine’s restaurant – for the past half-century the most celebrated literary meeting-place in New York – would make a beeline for Elaine herself. The eponymous proprietress was hard to miss. When I met her at 9pm one Monday night last June she was jutting out from the edge of table four — which used to be Norman Mailer’s table, and William Styron’s and Kurt Vonnegut’s — and at the age of 80, she still looked as though she could pick up any given gangster by the collar and flick him out the door with her finger. “Everybody’s here,” she said as she greeted me, with a meaningful nod in the direction of actor Alec Baldwin. The place was not terribly crowded, but Baldwin was at table three (once home to Laurence Olivier and Noël Coward) and gradually, over the next hour or two, Elaine edged further into his group of indeterminate somebodies until she was among them, Baldwin cracking jokes and everyone else laughing.

Elaine’s has been referred to as a salon/saloon, and the combined image that conjures up of Gertrude Stein and John Wayne was as good a first impression of Elaine Kaufman as any. George Plimpton, editor in chief of the Paris Review, once said fondly that “she has the fastest knee in town and she knows where to put it”. Years earlier, she had spent the night in jail after slugging an unwelcome customer and cutting his cheek with her large gold rings. Elaine’s antics were part of the draw; a famous New Yorker cartoon features a couple entering the restaurant as a man rockets headlong out of the front window, with the caption: “Oh, good. Room just opened up at the bar.” New York magazine celebrated the place’s 20th anniversary in 1983 with an article headlined: “If you’ve been too afraid to go to Elaine’s for the past 20 years, here’s what you’ve missed”.

More here.