Reviews

Everyone Comes to Elaine's by A. E. Hotchner

Tara Taghizadeh

Henry Kissinger once said that the best thing about celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it's their fault. But what happens if celebrities bore each other?"


Everyone Comes to Elaine's

Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 256
Subtitle: Forty Years of Neighborhood Regulars, Movie Stars, All-stars, Literary Lions, Financial Scions, Top Cops, Politicians, and Power Brokers At the Legendary Hotspot
Price: $26.95
Author: A. E. Hotchner
US publication date: 2004-03
Amazon
I want a sandwich named after me.
— Jon Stewart

As the comedian Jon Stewart well knows, you're still a nobody until some restaurateur serves you on the menu or, as an anonymous wise soul once said, until some crazy person imagines he's you. (Napoleon, anyone?) Tell that to the slew of glitterati at Elaine's. For forty years, the famous New York restaurant has been an exclusive club to the crème-de-la crème: writers, Hollywood movers-and-shakers, politicians and other celebs, a few of whom have had sandwiches named after them in other eateries. Elaine's is where they gather to see and be seen by their peers, far from the madding crowd.

Author A. E. Hotchner's Everyone Comes to Elaine's serves as a fond tribute to this famous landmark, though the title is a tad deceiving. Perhaps, Everyone Who is Actually Someone Comes to Elaine's, or 'Nobodies' Needn't Bother, would be more fitting. And yes, Mr. Hotchner is an Elaine's regular himself, which largely accounts for his star-struck tone about his favorite restaurant and its proprietor, Elaine Kaufman.

A former waitress, Elaine took her life savings and gambled on purchasing a place on 88th and Second Avenue in the early '60s. The restaurant quickly gathered momentum and established a reputation as a literary salon. By the mid-'60s, Elaine's had become a full-fledged "writers club," boasting such regulars as Norman Mailer, George Plimpton, and Lewis Lapham, among others.

Word got around that Elaine was partial to writers, and soon every scribe with a penchant for drink would linger at the restaurant for hours, debating and arguing or playing poker till the wee hours, and not worrying about the check. As Hotchner explains, "Elaine treated us royally. You paid when you could, and if you couldn't, you would someday...." Elaine's generosity often paid off as most customers cleared their tabs eventually, and added generous tips as well. As one bartender explains, a French patron had purchased champagne bottle after champagne bottle, and then disappeared. He showed up years later, and not only paid off his bill, but also left a $5,000 bonus.

By the '70s, the restaurant had branched into more than a writers club, as other celebrities -- movie stars, politicians, sports personalities, and so on -- also became regulars. During this time, Elaine's snob appeal reached its height, as it became clear that the grande dame had her favorites who were immediately accommodated and escorted to the best tables, while "unrecognizables" were left waiting at the bar until a seat became available. As Hotchner (whom we can assume always has a table ready) writes:

Reputations soar or stub mortally on how long a man has to stand at the bar of this lovingly seedy little joint... before getting a table somewhere in the back of playwright Jack Richardson's head.

Uurgh. Why bother?

Ruling with an iron fist, the feisty Elaine Kaufman (who also has a knack for engaging in fistfights with unwanted customers) clucks around her famous regulars like a mother hen, making sure that they are comfortable, entertained, and well fed, even going to such lengths as rudely dismissing lesser patrons (who may be in the midst of their dinner) to make room for a celebrity.

The star-studded list of patrons have included Frank Sinatra, Nora Ephron, Jackie Kennedy-Onassis, Mick Jagger, Michael Caine, Kurt Vonnegut, Dustin Hoffman, David Halberstam, and the resident royal, Woody Allen, who holds court at the best table, especially reserved for him. The book is filled with numerous reminiscences written by a slew of Elaine's hangers-on, and Allen has also contributed his own personal ode. It's odd that the man who can afford to blow off the Academy Awards (even when his films are nominated) would feel the need to frequent a blatantly social-climbing joint like Elaine's. Go figure.

Hotchner's book is filled with photographs of celebrities who have all dined there, and it has more of a feel of a scrapbook or family album. Halfway through the book, we begin to wonder if we have crashed a private party where the guests are all twisting their necks to watch for the next great thing to walk through the door, the hostess is an ill-mannered boor, and the food isn't any good either.

The author doesn't dwell too long on Elaine's lack of -- how shall we say? -- fine cuisine, choosing instead to emphasize that people never actually come for the food. (But this is a restaurant, right?) However, as humorist P.J. O'Rourke (another attendee) explains: "Every other place in New York seems to be specializing in some horrible gustatory fad: Tibetan dirt salads or Provencal escargots sorbet. But Elaine never serves me a fish that isn't dead yet, or Bolivian guinea pig terrine." Touché.

Henry Kissinger once said that the best thing about celebrity is that when you bore people, they think it's their fault. But what happens if celebrities bore each other? Everyone Comes to Elaine's is chockfull of anecdotes and bon mots uttered by its famous faces, but they're not particularly spectacular or revelatory in any sense. The juvenile pecking order (the favorites get the best tables), and the regular "table-hopping" (where guests at one table wander around hoping to talk to other celebrities seated elsewhere) simply makes Elaine's coterie come across as surprisingly insecure -- who feel better about themselves simply by having had the honor of dining alongside other flavors of the month. One can't help but have the sneaking suspicion that their time is spent talking at (rather than to) each other.

The most interesting section of the book is about a struggling wannabe writer, Jerry Spinelli, whose wife once bid for "A Night on the Town with George Plimpton" from a local public TV auction. The late, great Plimpton, wondering how to entertain him, decided to take him to Elaine's. Spinelli, thrilled at the opportunity to rub elbows with the literati, was overjoyed. In a hilarious moment, Plimpton, ever the gentleman, even commits a no-no, and takes Spinelli over to Woody Allen's "off-limits" table. After the introduction -- "Woody, this is Jerry Spinelli..." -- Allen (perplexingly) replies, "Yes, I know," a response which further elated the struggling writer. Months later, Spinelli wrote to Plimpton to inform him that his book had been published. (Spinelli eventually won a Newbery Medal.)

Hotchner's book is written in a breezy, gossipy tone and should sell well amongst the Elaine's crowd, restaurateurs, and other New Yorkers who have come to admire the famous chi-chi eatery and its larger-than-life owner. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, though: Frankly, Mr. Hotchner, they might not give a damn. But get them a table at Elaine's, and they might whistle a different tune.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web
Film

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image