But it retained its charm for the regulars.
“She was just this great, big wonderful woman. She was smart and very smart about people,” Zarem said. “You could trust her and talk about anything.”
Tables there soon became coveted, attracting not only a literary crowd but mayors, artists and celebrities, including Jackie Onassis, Michael Caine and George Steinbrenner.
“She was a special person who contributed so much to the rich fabric of New York City,” Steinbrenner’s son Hal said in a statement.
Former Mayor Ed Koch, who was in office when Elaine celebrated her 25th anniversary in 1988, said even he enjoyed spotting celebrities there.
“Elaine Kaufman had a lot of friends, and I was privileged to be one of them,” he said in a statement.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called her “a New York institution.”
Among those who attended the 25th anniversary celebration were Sidney Lumet, Eli Wallach, Raquel Welch, Jackie Mason, Billy Dee Williams and Cheryl Tiegs.
Despite complaints over the years that she banished less-interesting people to the worst tables, Kaufman did not consider herself a snob, arguing that her restaurant simply attracted a sophisticated crowd.
“She wasn’t a fraud. You got what you got. You got her backtalk and you got that she sometimes didn’t feel like talking to you even if she liked you,” Talese said Friday. “But she was always worthy of respect because she worked so hard. She knew everything that went on in that restaurant, right down to how much salt and pepper were in the shakers.”
Former Associated Press Writer Polly Anderson, AP writers Verena Dobnik and Kiley Armstrong, AP Arts Editor Dolores Barclay and AP Special Correspondent Linda Deutsch contributed to this report.