Elaine, who is either 66 or 69, depending on who's counting, is a genteel and decorous lady who runs a popular restaurant in Manhattan. She has bad knees, broke her hip last year and is somewhat pudgy. But on April 4 she was arrested inside her own joint, cuffed and kept at the 19th precinct on assault charges, before being released in the predawn hours of a New York Saturday.
She beat me up, complained a bar customer, male, aged 45. Elaine, it was alleged, called him "white trash." She said he got in her face and stepped on her foot.
The plaintiff, said barmen, didn't drink enough (one gin & tonic between two of them, with a buck tip). In Manhattan watering places such behavior is considered grounds for surly discontent on the part of the proprietor. If not for actual arrest (of the customer!).
The customer, Jim Sorrels, ended up with a couple of scratches on his right cheek. Which he blames on Elaine. A careful sort, Mr. Sorrels dialed 911 and had an ambulance called. He went to the hospital for treatment that reputedly included antisnake venom, rabies injections, lockjaw medicine, blood transfusions, biopsies and a tetanus shot. At presstime he was talking of plastic surgeons. And consulting with eminent legal counsel including, say sources, Ginsburg the lawyer.
Mr. Sorrels is from Dallas. Or Arkansas. Accounts vary. Which may explain why he went to Metropolitan Hospital, famed largely as the place where they filmed that George C. Scott black farce, "The Hospital."
For about 35 years Elaine has been running Elaine's, perched on a high stool at the end of the bar, greeting guests, chewing out waiters and scrutinizing the bills. A gruffy, amiable, expansive figure, she is a friend to many of those who make New York work. Especially writers (between books, she has been known to run a lengthy tab), pols, models, Mad Ave types, actors, designers and athletes. The current mayor, Mr. Giuliani, does not like Elaine's. It seems his aides, including the former police commissioner, got the best tables. Maybe the mayor didn't get a good table one night? Who can plumb the recesses of a man's soul?
Ed Koch goes there. So, too, John Lindsay. Many Kennedys. Jimmy Carter. Jackie O. Michael Caine. Rockefellers. Sharon Stone. Peter Maas. David Halberstam. Kurt Vonnegut. Gay Talese. Hemingway's pal Hotchner. Paul Newman and Joanne. Streisand. Adventurers and con men. Valentino the fashion designer. Calvin Klein. One night the entire 25 Atlanta Braves, with Tom Glavine at our table. Patrick Ewing. Boxers. Treasury agents. Beautiful women. And, a regular with his own table, Woody Allen.
One night London Daily Mail columnist Nigel Dempster, who had dined well, bit George Plimpton's ankle at Elaine's. That same night Nigel accused Adolph Green of "wearing someone else's teeth." Pio, her headwaiter, abandoned New York to become a mercenary soldier in Angola. On one occasion, Elaine threw Norman Mailer out of the place. His girlfriend of the moment (long before the ineffable Norris Church came into Norman's life) kept unscrewing lightbulbs over Elaine's objections.
Norman, a gentleman, did not return to Elaine's for some years. But did Norman call the cops or consult plastic surgeons? He did not.
Things have gone on at Elaine's (and in her bathrooms) that I hesitate to mention. Keith Hernandez has stories he could tell. But that was all years ago. We mellow with age, people and places: the dawn-patrol backgammon games, the chippies working the bar, lit'ry feuds, the snubs and the snobberies, the weeping and recitations. Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich) in "Destry Rides Again" had nothing on Elaine, presiding over a time now gone.
These days, Elaine has highchairs. I know; my grandchildren have both used them at that table just aft of the wooden cigar store Indian.
The evening 20 years ago when Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post, we dined at 21 and drank in the company of Tip O'Neill and Hugh Carey, arriving at Elaine's at closing time. Even the chef had gone home. Elaine went into the kitchen, hustled up the ham and eggs and toast and pots of coffee herself, and sat down with Rupert and all of us while we read and reread the front-page story in The New York Times about Murdoch's coup.
And it was also at Elaine's during a blizzard that columnist Steve Dunleavy, fatigued from his labors, reclined briefly with a lady in the drifts outside, where a garbage truck ran over his foot. Occasioning, from Pete Hamill, the remark, "I hope it was his writing foot."
Does Mr. Sorrels realize this isn't just a ginmill? This joint is history!