The 174-room hotel, opened in 1902, was designed by architect Goldwin Starrett. It was originally conceived as a residential hotel but was quickly converted to a traditional lodging establishment. Its first owner-manager, Frank Case (who bought the hotel in 1927), established many of the hotel's traditions. Perhaps its best-known tradition is hosting literary and theatrical notables, most prominently the members of the Algonquin Round Table.
The Algonquin Hotel was originally designed as an apartment hotel, whose owner planned to rent rooms and suites on year-long leases. When few leases sold, the owner decided to turn it into a hotel which he was originally going to name "The Puritan". Frank Case, upon discovering that Algonquian tribes had been the first residents of the area, persuaded the owner to christen it "The Algonquin" instead.
Case took over the lease on the hotel in 1907 and bought the property on which the building sat in 1927 for US$1 million. Case remained owner and manager of the hotel until his death in June 1946. In October that year, The Algonquin was purchased by Ben Bodne of Charleston, South Carolina for just over US$1 million. Bodne undertook an extensive restoration and renovation effort. Bodne sold the hotel in 1987 to a group of Japanese investors and the Algonquin changed hands a number of times before ending up with Miller Global Properties in 2002. Following a two-year, US$3 million renovation, the hotel was sold again in 2005 to HEI Hospitality.
The Algonquin Round Table
Main article: Algonquin Round Table
In June 1919 the hotel became the site of the daily meetings of the Algonquin Round Table, a group of journalists, authors, publicists and actors who gathered to exchange bon mots over lunch in the main dining room. The group met almost daily for the better part of ten years. Some of the core members of the "Vicious Circle" included Franklin P. Adams, Robert Benchley, Heywood Broun, Marc Connelly, Jane Grant, Ruth Hale, George S. Kaufman, Neysa McMein, Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, Robert E. Sherwood and Alexander Woollcott.
The Algonquin Round Table – a group of notorious literary figures (mostly critics) who made The Algonquin their daily meeting place – set forth to implement significant literary styles in the early 1900s.
At the end of World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Robert E. Sherwood started meeting for lunch at The Algonquin. Alexander Woollcott, acerbic critic and war correspondent, received a warm welcome from literary friends in 1919. They gathered in the Rose Room that afternoon; one person enjoyed the event enough to request that it become a daily event. That same request prompted a daily exchange of ideas and opinions shared between highly esteemed literary figures. George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun, and Edna Ferber were also a part of this August assembly; these individuals influenced writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. They founded The New Yorker magazine – all hotel guests receive free copies to this day.
Frank Case, owner of the hotel, ensured a daily luncheon for the talented group of young writers by treating them to free celery and popovers; more importantly, they were provided with their own table and waiter. Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun, and Marc Connelly eventually joined the group, expanding its membership. All members were affiliated with The Algonquin Round Table, although they referred to themselves as the Vicious Circle.
Presently, The Round Table restaurant is one of the most favored dining spots in New York City. Visitors often request to dine at the actual “round table” where members originally met for decades. Artistic and creative minds alike still meet to this day to discuss thoughts and ideas just as the Vicious Circle once did.
The hotel has a tradition of keeping a cat that has the run of the hotel. The practice dates to the 1930s, when Frank Case took in a stray male cat that was initially named "Rusty." Hotel lore says actor John Barrymore suggested the cat needed a more "dignified" name, so the cat was renamed "Hamlet." Nowadays, whenever the hotel has a male cat, he's named Hamlet; but if the hotel has a female cat, she's named "Matilda." The current Algonquin cat, a Matilda, is a Ragdoll that was named 2006 cat of the year at the Westchester (New York) Cat Show. Visitors can spot Matilda on her personal chaise longue in the lobby; she can also be found in her favorite places: behind the computer on the front desk, or lounging on a baggage cart. The doormen feed her and the general manager's executive assistant answers Matilda's e-mail. During 2011, Matilda was temporarily confined to an upper floor or to the limits of a leash tethered to the check-in desk, due to a directive from the city Department of Health. As of late 2011, Matilda has been confined to the non-food areas of the lobby by an electronic pet fence.
Although the Algonquin was "dry" even before Prohibition (Case closed the hotel bar in 1917 and had harsh words for those who ran speakeasies), the hotel does have an eponymous cocktail, composed of rye whiskey, Noilly Prat and pineapple juice. More recently, a newer drink has hit the Algonquin's menu, the $10,000 Martini or "Martini on the Rock," consisting of a martini of the buyer's choice with a single piece of "ice," a diamond, at the bottom of the glass. The martini was developed to mark completion of a major 29-day renovation that closed the hotel for the first time since its opening. Hoy Wong is a notable bartender at the hotel and is the oldest person to hold such a position in the state, still serving aged 90 in 2006.
In keeping with Frank Case's long-standing tradition of sending popovers and celery to the more impoverished members of the Round Table, the Algonquin offers lunch discounts to struggling writers. Formerly, writers on tour could stay one night at the hotel free in exchange for an autographed copy of their book, although the practice has been amended to include a discount on standard room rates.
The Algonquin Round Table, as well as the number of other literary and theatrical greats who lodged there, helped earn the hotel its status as a New York City Historic Landmark. The hotel was so designated in 1987. In 1996 the hotel was designated a National Literary Landmark by the Friends of Libraries USA. The organization's bronze plaque is attached to the front of the hotel.
- Case, Frank (1938). Tales of a Wayward Inn. New York: Garden City Publishing Co. p. 39.
- Case 26–27
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- Case 37
- Case 189
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- National Public Radio (July 29, 2006). "The Algonquin Hotel's Feline Celebrity". NPR.org. Retrieved October 21, 2007.
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- Case 172
- Case 175–7
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- James R. Gaines, Wit's End: Days and Nights of the Algonquin Round Table (New York: Harcourt, 1977).