Happy 112th Birthday to the Algonquin Hotel, A NYC Literary Landmark

Posted On Fri, November 21, 2014 By

Posted On Fri, November 21, 2014 By In Features, History, Hotels, Midtown West

In a town overrun with fancy hotels, the Algonquin–which turns 112 tomorrow–has true staying power, proving that history and heritage are every bit as important as plush bedding and sweet-smelling bath products.

Designed by Goldwin Starrett in a Renaissance limestone and red brick façade, the 12-story Algonquin Hotel, at 42 West 42nd Street, opened on November 22, 1902, initially operating as an apartment hotel with year-long leases but switching to a hotel after the owner failed to find enough renters. Today, the Algonquin–both a literary landmark and a New York City Historic Landmark–remains one of New York’s most cherished institutions, drawing a mix of artists, tourists and cultural elites.

Algonquin Round Table, Al Hirschfeld, Algonquin Hotel
A cartoon of the Round Table by Al Hirschfeld © Al Hirschfeld Foundation

General manager Frank Case, who bought the Algonquin in 1927, is credited with cultivating the hotel’s loyal following of literary and theatrical figures known as the “Round Table,” a daily gathering of writers, journalists, and critics that included Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Brown, and Edna Ferber. In addition to providing the group with its own table and waiter, Case supplied Round Table members with free celery and popovers – a tradition that endures to this day, with the hotel providing discounts to struggling writers.

Round Table Restaurant, Algonquin Hotel, Algonquin Round TableThe Round Table Restaurant today via the Algonquin Hotel

The first meeting of the Round Table or the “Vicious Circle,” as the group took to calling itself, was held on June 19, 1919 in the Pergola Room (which would come to be known as the Oak Room, shuttered in 2012), where a number of writers and actresses met for a luncheon honoring New York Times drama critic Aleck Woollcott, who had returned from serving as a WWI war correspondent. That luncheon quickly evolved into a daily affair drawing as many as 24 attendees. When the group grew too large for the space, Case moved them into the main dining room, the Rose Room–now the Round Table Restaurant. They would meet every day for close to ten years.

Beyond the Round Table, the Algonquin was a popular spot for actors and theater people, including Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and John Barrymore. In later years, the Oak Room launched the careers of such famed singers as Harry Connick Jr., Dianna Krall, and Michael Fenistein.

Algonquin Hotel cat
Matilda III, the current Algonquin Cat via the Algonquin Hotel

At the modern-day Algonquin, tradition is on full display: from free copies of The New Yorker–founded by “Round Table” member Harold Ross and funded at one of the group’s infamous gatherings–to the Algonquin’s resident cat (Matilda for females, Hamlet for males), a fixture in the hotel since Case took in his first stray in the late 1930’s.

Algonquin HotelVia wallyg via photopin cc

More recently, the hotel has instituted some new traditions, most notably a $10,000 “Martini on the Rock”–which consists of a martini of the buyer’s choice along with a single piece of “ice,” a diamond from in-house jeweler Bader & Garrin.

Find more Midtown West history by checking out CityRealty’s timeline here.

Lead image via the Algonquin Hotel

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Neighborhoods : Midtown West



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