The Algonquin Hotel in New York City

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Algonquin Hotel in New York City
The Algonquin Hotel in New York City

Home of the Algonquin Round Table, and Today One of New York’s Most Storied Hotels

By Paul Shoul
GoNOMAD Staff Photographer

Right after checking in to the Algonquin Hotel in NYC, my girlfriend and I lucked into two seats at the adjoining Blue Bar to toast our upcoming two-night stay.

The place was buzzing, packed with the crowds from the Times Square theaters just down the street. Thoughts of the legendary writer Dorothy Parker were running through my head:
“I’d like to have a martini. Two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”

The Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, New York City.
The Blue Bar

John, our bartender, set us up with drinks. Smooth under pressure, bathed in blue light, (a tradition started by John Barrymore in 1933 when the bar opened after the end of prohibition) his easy smile somehow offered acceptance of our past sins as he gently fueled us for those we might yet commit.

“How long have you worked here?” I asked. “Twenty-four years” he replied. “But you should talk to Rudy the bar back. He’s been here for over 40 years.”

Long Time Staffers

It became a common theme during our stay at the Algonquin Hotel. Every staff member we talked with seemed to have been there longer than the last.

Initially opened in 1902, the Algonquin was added to Marriott Hotels Autograph Collection of unique boutique hotels in 2010.

Marriott kept on many of the long-term staff. To say that they were friendly and accommodating would be an understatement. The combined years of their experience in hospitality could be felt in every interaction.

They are a part of the soul of this historic landmark’s storied history.

Some hotels are just a place to sleep; the Algonquin is a place to be. It is an official New York City historical landmark and a designated National Literary Landmark. For many, it is a pilgrimage to walk in the footsteps of history.

The Algonquin Hotel Lobby.
The Algonquin Hotel Lobby.

The lobby of the Algonquin is a vast open layout–Elegant yet inviting. Strategically placed groupings of couches and chairs are perfect for intimate or small group conversations. It feels like you’ve walked into another era.

The Round Table

Past the grand piano to the back of the main room is the hotel’s restaurant  The Round Table.  In the center is the famous “Algonquin Round Table” for which it is named. Above it hangs a painting by Brooklyn artist Natalie Ascencios of a group of people having one hell of a time.

In June of 1913, a group of friends gathered for lunch at the Algonquin to welcome home New York Times drama critic Aleck Woolcott from World War I.  It was quite a group: Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Adams, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, and Harold Ross, columnists Franklin Pierce Adams and Heywood Broun, and Broun’s wife Ruth Hale, comedian Harpo Marx, and playwrights George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber, and Robert Sherwood were just some of the regulars. Some say their ghosts still walk the halls.

They had such a good time that they met the next day and the next for a decade until it became known as the ten-year lunch.

The group of journalists, actors authors, and publicists were the cream of the crop of the time. They were smart and funny and enjoyed each other’s work and company. Their criticism and wit together became legendary, often reported by them through their various outlets. They called themselves the “Vicious Circle” and became a significant cultural influence during the 1920s.

The Round Table at the Algonquin.
The Round Table at the Algonquin.

Birthplace of the The New Yorker  

The Algonquin is the birthplace of significant literary achievements. Harold Ross started the New Yorker Magazine in 1925 funded with money won at a poker game at the round table.

Maya Angelou penned the screenplay for “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” here. William Faulkner wrote his 1950 Nobel Peace Prize speech at the hotel and even the Music for “ My Fair Lady” was composed here by Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner.

Algonquin executive chef Henderson Catyln
Algonquin executive chef Henderson Catyln

The Chef.

Executive chef Henderson Catyln has a straightforward approach to running a restaurant and the food he prepares for the Oak Room.

A 23-year veteran of Marriott hotels, he is credited with a  significant increase in volume since he took over four years ago.

In the kitchen, there is a bulletin board with his mission statement: “One sound. One voice. One Team.” He holds two stand up meetings a day with the staff to assess problems, talk about the food and relay comments from customers.

“This is not a foodie place. We do simple, flavorful, elegant dishes and focus on the basics. I want people to understand what they are eating.” The menu is an enticing collection of dishes: Marinated Miso Striped Bass and pencil asparagus, butternut squash puree; pan-seared salmon and cannelloni beans, wild mushroom ragu, English pea coulis, black beans, roasted tomatoes, baby vegetables, house-made Pico de Gallo; and a massive 16 oz dry aged bone-in ribeye with rustic Yukon mash, vegetable du jour, merlot jus.

I had breakfast with Chef Catlyn and his Broken Yolk Sandwich with prosciutto, provolone, tomato, and fresh basil was glorious.

The Algonquin’s Rooms
My girlfriend Diane commented after our first night at the hotel that “…this is the cleanest room I have ever stayed in.” High praise considering the Algonquin holds the title as the oldest running hotel in NYC.

Our room was spacious by Manhattan’s notoriously tiny standards. The bed was super comfortable. The bathroom features Beekman Apothecaries and a spotlessly clean stainless glass and white tile shower.

There is a free local telephone, high-speed wireless internet, a flat-screen TV and a working desk. For a nice touch, complimentary gift books and a copy of the New Yorker magazine are waiting in every room.

 Algonquin Fitness Center Algoquin Hotel New York City
The Algonquin’s Fitness Center is open 24 hours.

Final Thoughts
When you enter the world of the Algonquin Hotel there is no question of who is really in charge: it is Hamlet the resident cat who often can be found walking the halls or stretched out on the front desk.

A tradition was started by the owner/manager Frank Case in the 1920s when he adopted a stray cat. There has been an Algonquin cat ever since. There have been 11 cats in residence: three Matildas and 8 Hamlets. All were rescue cats.

Hamlet is quite possibly the world’s most famous cat. He has both a Facebook page and an

Hamlet, The Algonquin cat
Hamlet, The Algonquin cat

Instagram account. There is even a kitty fashion show held at the hotel.

Of course, The Algonquin is pet-friendly.

The Algonquin Hotel
59 West 44th Street
New York, New York
10036
212-840-6800