Sadly, Elio Guaitolini has passed away. Elio was a beloved restaurateur who opened his eponymous East Side restaurant Elio’s in 1981.
I returned to New York City this same year after attending high school and college in Florence, Italy.
In those days Italian food in New York City was limited to the many pizzerias from Naples and Southern Italian restaurants as exemplified by Patsy’s or Mamma Leone’s. While I grew up in New York City going to Patsy’s, for countless family style meals, I also had become spoiled by what we came to refer to as ‘Northern Italian ‘ cuisine.
Elio’s became my go-to haunt for great cucina italiana. It was always a treat as I felt like I was suddenly swept back to Italy diving into a great bowl of pasta and becoming part of a dining room atmosphere full of people happy to be at Elio’s and savored their moments of dining as one does in Italy.
I learned from the obituary in the New York Times that he was born Elio Antonio Leone Guaitolini on July 6, 1933, in Genoa, Italy, where his mother, Dina Mancini, worked as a cleaning woman. He was born out of wedlock and spent his early childhood in an orphanage.
At 26 after working jobs in France and Venezuela Elio illegally entered the United States and learned English by reading newspapers and the reading over and over the captions to the New Yorker cartoons.
Elio was employed and involved in partial ownership in several New York restaurants including: Portofino, Elaine’s, Petaluma, Due, Luke’s Bar and Grill and Merenda all on the Upper East Side.
But, it is Elio’s that we all will remember Elio for.
Walking down Second Avenue you would find the famous Elaine’s on 88th Street. On any given night Mike Nichols, Woody Allen, Carl Bernstein, John Lennon and so many others could be found at Elaine’s where Elaine herself would host and make celebrities and writers feel comfortable in her eatery. Everyone, who knew anything about New York dining though, knew, that those who really cared about quality dining ended up at Elio’s only four blocks away on Second Avenue and 84th Street.
While working as PR director for Benetton in the mid 1980’s I often took Luciano Benetton to Elio’s for a great bowl of pasta. I loved the spaghetti with white clam sauce.
Signor Luciano often ordered the steak. Elio was always on the scene, gracious and friendly but never obvious.
His wine list was well edited and featured great northern Italian red & white wines.
Celebrities flocked to Elio’s as well. I remember spotting Clint Eastwood, Tony Bennett, Nick Pileggi and Nora Ephron, John McEnroe and Carl Bernstein there. Everyone was always laughing, high-spirited and happy to be a part of the very warm and inviting atmosphere that Elio created.
I will miss Elio. Of course the restaurant remains open.
I will go and I know others will continue to frequent the eatery, imagining that Elio is still there, hanging back, greeting those he knows and quietly showing off his finest accomplishment Elio’s, on Second Avenue.
Sally Fisher is the President and Founder of Sally Fisher Public Relations