Thursday, May 19, 2011

“They were all impressed with your Halston dress and the people that you knew at Elaine’s"

 R.I.P. Elaine’s…P.J. Clarke’s woulda been a better victim.
“Elaine’s, one of the most iconic restaurants in New York, is closing its doors on May 26th. The restaurant – which has served a wide variety of celebrities and writers, including Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Gay Talese – simply couldn’t survive once its owner Elaine Kaufman died last December.”
A buddy of mine emailed me this article about the shuttering of another Gotham destination whose staying power pooped out…Elaine’s. My response was that Elaine’s without Elaine wasn't Elaine’s. Therefore I wasn't surprised. And of course every article I've read waxes nostalgic about the place but lands on the same conclusion. Here’s an excerpt from my email reply…
Subject: Re: Elaine's to Close Next Week - FishbowlNY
“Yep. Elaine's without Elaine. Not surprising. New York is least the Gotham that I WANT to imagine. London is closing in fast. P. J. Clarke's is nothing more than a TGI Fridays...limping along on some attenuated hardscrabble literary/journalist/show biz clientele memory. Their bouncer wears fingerless, ventilated driving gloves. And he smacks people. I've been present for the smacking but wasn't the smackee. Ditto the Algonquin.”
Then this from my buddy “…a few years ago, after the Big Renovation, walked over to Clarke’s, saw a Studio 54-like line consisting of  Studio 54-style hopefuls in, uh, contemporary attire – then heard the…music…that was spilling through the door onto the sidewalk.  Haven’t bothered to try since.  Now I understand it’s franchising, or at least has a satellite or two.  Clarke’s, RIP.   Smoky, greasy, dark, big urinal (I read they at least kept those) Clarke’s.  There the food was very, very, very secondary, often barely edible, I thought, while to me Elaine’s chow was always underrated. Or, its flaws overstated…”
Funny about the P. J. Clarke’s urinals. Sinatra said “you could stand Abe Beame in one and still have room.” 
And my buddy is spot-on about Clarke’s. You ain't gonna find the modern day complements to actor Richard Harris applying his restorative vodka shots or columnist and Nixon enemy George Frazier having a cheeseburger there. Interestingly, places like Clarke’s were at one time, destinations that reflected a segment of the Gotham strata.  
Frazier, in his epic 1960 Esquire treatise…The Art of Wearing Clothes…correlates P.J. Clarke’s with a sartorially stylish bunch.
“…for nowadays even the smallest town has a men's shop that carries the same suits and haberdashery that are on sale at, say Madison Avenue and Forty-fifth Street in New York. New Bedford, Massachusetts, for example, has Marty Sullivan's, a store so attuned to the fickleness of fashion that it has its buyers and designers spend part of their Manhattan visitations in such bars-and-grills as P. J. Clarke's, which attracts an extremely creatively-dressed Ivy League clientele.”
Oops…just realized something. What was I thinking? P. J. Clarke’s still reflects a slice of the Gotham strata. It’s just a different one. Look, I’m no anthropologist or intellectual or sociologist or whatever. So it’s not like I’m capturing a demo-socio-anthropological phenomenon here…quite the opposite actually. This was a breakthrough for me...not for y'all. I’m slow. So when the obvious lands late, we bring out the neuronal hazmat trucks. Shut up.
I remember Richard Merkin telling me that part of his motivation for decamping Gotham was its slow but obvious and steady slide towards homogeneity. Something about hookers being the proverbial Canaries in the Gotham Coal Mine. One day they were gone. These surrogate markers indexed to the inevitable beige sameness that one like Merkin, whose eyes had viewed Gotham for sixty-five years, might see earlier and more sensitively than others.
The one-offs in my hometown…the independents, the local characters and businesses of my youth save a few, have gone the way of Elaine’s. I took the photo above when I was home last month. This is Evans street—the source of all my childhood clothes and toys and also the sweet-spot for my Trad sartorial orientation. I’m standing in front of the haberdashery where I worked part time during my formative years. It opened there and remained so from 1927 till the about 1990. Everything’s now closed and the national chains are out near the Interstate.
The I-20 spur in Florence, South Carolina has a retail and entertainment strip manned by the likes of Applebee’s, Red Lobster, Target, Staples, Best Buy and a Borders. And so does Gotham and London and every other urban destination I find myself visiting.  Beige consistency…homogeneity…dead canaries everywhere. All in the same sequence…maybe the Red Lobster before Applebee’s now and again but every supporting actor in the sameness ensemble present and accounted for. Butcept Florence has no Duane Reads…which is probably what’ll take Elaine’s place.
Onward. Smelling something funny in the coal mine. Funny indeed. ADG, II  


T said...

Damnit. When you are on, you are ON. Screw the big pharma, THIS for a living.

LPC said...

Only the best people get thrown out of really dreadful spots.

Belle (from Life of a...) said...

We enjoyed the drive through at the Chickfila just off if I-95 in Florence not two weeks ago.

old said...

Life goes one. We still have McSorleys even though its ambiance is weaker due to the NYC smoking ban (which I strongly support)and by the death of frequent patron, Pat Moynihan. Yes, that Pat Moynihan. Being present when he sang the "Wearing of the Green" twenty years ago was one of most prized memories.

As per the Palmetto State, I have not had the privilege of spending much time in its environs. However, I did have a scrumptious pancake breakfast at a dive called Tar Baby's near Cherry Grove Creek on a trip from Atlanta to DC a couple of years ago. Shoulda bought the T-Shirt.

Summer is a Verb said...

Kurt Vonnegut, Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Gay Talese annnd Allie von Summersverb. Best Ceasar salad outside my mother's...XXOO

Patsy said...

Funny to hear Old mention McSorley's - I thought that photo was of their men's room, which used to be the only rest room.

A lot of folks who pine for old New York, aren't from New York. There are a million places that have been around as long as Elaine's and Clarke's, they just aren't destinations for the nouveau famous and out of towners painting the town.

ADG said... are spot on.
Kinda like when I lived in New Orleans...after three months of experiencing all of the predictable eatery Galatois...Commanders Palace etc. (all very good by the way)I spent the balance of my two years there indulging in mostly places that non-residents wouldn't have on their to-see list. And admittedly, MY London...MY New York is a contrivance vetted by nobody butcept me.

AllieVonOneStepAway...I'm using a lot of the "Ceasar Kit" bag salads from Giant these days.

old...I've only been to McSorleys once but am glad I can say I did. And I've spent tons of time and left a lot of brain cells at Cherry Grove Beach.

Belle...ChicFila...good in any town.


CeceliaMc said...

"Dead canaries" is right on the money.

One evening, my daughter and I were driving on a downtown street, when I noticed that a long empty store was all lit up.

From the dim street, the place looked warm and friendly, intimate, really. It was like things used to look on a Friday night downtown.

I reflexively pulled in before noticing that it was another one of those Dollar Tree stores.

My daughter said, "Mama, now why are we going here? You're good on the plastic container front."

Well, what I wanted was to go in and see friends that I had been to school with. To run into ladies from church, who had once scolded that they planned to inform my father about such dire things as my acting silly in the library with the boy who worked there.

I am aware that everybody from forty onward, wants to go "home". However, the wishing of it today isn't a collective consciousness phenomenon that's thwarted by ordinary time and change. No, now it's like wishing to be on another world, and wishing it from a place that isn't merely dissimilar from home, but intrinsically different.

I never got to go to Elaine's in New York, but I mourn with everyone who has lost that touchstone. I also mourn with you, ADG, over your lost Main Street.

Easy and Elegant Life said...

Sounds like what you tell me of My Georgetown... . Weird. I've gotta get travelling before everything is beached beige. Or greige perhaps.

Anonymous said...

I will be in New Orleans next week, care to share any of your unpredictable favorites?

Brohammas said...

When I left Greenville South Carolina, which surprisingly has a population of say, 20,000 people and about 30,000 chain stores or restaurants, I was pleased to leave bland suburbia behind....
Of course i spent last year visiting every Wal-Mart on the eastern sea-board, "where am I, Mass or Va? who knows; it all looks the same from here."

It makes me enjoy urban decay that much more. viva la resurgent city centers!

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello ADG:
Oh yes, preserve us from all white interiors, characterless individuals, suburbia, package holidays, supermarkets, DIY stores, Burger King and sandals worn with socks [as you no doubt realise, we could go on]. For where are the mavericks of the day and the restaurants such as Elaine's with, as you point out here, the absolutely vital ingredient of Elaine?

We have come across your blog by a circuitous route but have found in your posts some refreshing reading laced with the dry wit which seems so sadly missing in today's PC world. We love it all and shall return for more.

ADG said...

T-Bone...get the needle out of your arm. One can't make a living doing this shit. But thanks.

Jane and Lance...I'm gratified that you got here--regardless of the circuitous journey. I've added your blog to my list and I enjoyed also, visiting your illustrator friend's site/blog. I've spent a good bit of time in West Sussex. Matter of fact I'm gonna do a story on the church/chapel at Arundel Castle and the funny noises I made there. Had my first fish and chips in Brighton decades ago.

Brohammas..."where am I?" ...I experience that in every homogenized metro area I land in. And I'm in a lot of them.

AnonymousNewOrleans...interesting coincidence. I'll be there too. For this first time since 1996.

Eleganto...YOUR Georgetown is gone. Sorry. need to start a blog. You good writer you.

CeceliaMc said...

Sweety, if every long-winded southerner got a blog, there wouldn't be enough pixels in the world....but thanks.

Jane and Lance, I hate those all white interiors too, and I pray for the day when designers are over mid-century modern.

yoga teacher said...

Now I'm depressed. Even though I try to ignore the "obvious and steady slide towards homogeneity," it's everywhere. I got cornered at a Saturday night party by a newcomer to my inner city neighborhood explaining to me how people like him are improving things by bulldozing perfectly good historic houses to build zero-lot-line-look-alike fake Victorian McMansions. So glad I rode my bike, because it took me 3 glasses of wine to get away from him.

Anonymous said...

JG Melon is still the burger place you should go to if you would like to find natives...

David V said...

The canary in the cage for me was when all the nation's radio stations started to sound the same.

And Clarke's has had a satellite in Chicago since '86.