The Algonquin Hotel Celebrates 5 Years As An Official Literary Landmark Today

It was just over five years ago that the Algonquin Hotel was officially designated a literary landmark. Tucked on W. 44th street in Midtown Manhattan, stepping into the sprawling lounge invites you to dream that you are being written into a page of history—where literary institutions of today were conceived of and spun into gold, drinks made famous, and tradition served with every perfectly crafted Manhattan. H.L. Menckin once called it “the most comfortable hotel in the world.”

The Algonquin Round TableThe Algonquin Round Table: Art Samuels, Charlie MacArthur, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott.

Photo: Wikipedia

In 1927, about 20 years after construction completed, Frank Case acquired the hotel, changing its name from “the Puritan” to the “Algonquin.” Nestled between the theatre District and important publishing houses suited Case’s affinity for writers, directors, and actors and he made friends with them easily. Vanity Fair sat only four doors down and employed the core members of the infamous “Round Table.” Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber and about 20 other “acid-tongued” wits collected here for almost 10 years, exchanging wordplay and witticism.

The collaborations conducted in The Round Table sessions resulted in important contributions to American literature while the characters were applauded and characterised as post-World-War-I era pop-culture icons. They were not only writers, but critics as well, lending their ideas and opinions to Franklin P. Adam’s column in the New York Tribune, “The Conning Tower”—a column which later became hearty inspiration to Hemingway and Fitzgerald. The Round Table inspired the 1994 documentary, The 10 Year Lunch, produced by Robert Altman, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.

But it wasn’t just the Round Table that immortalised this hotel as a literary landmark. Women were welcomed inside the Algonquin from the beginning — Gertrude Stein, Simone de Beauvoir, Maya Angelou and Commander Evangeline Booth among them. Editor and friend of the round table crew, Herold Ross, conceived of the New Yorker there, and later secured funding at a table in the parlor for the magazine’s 1925 debut. It was also here that William Faulkner wrote his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1950.

And what good is a historic hotel without a story of a haunting? For more than 50 years, hotel staff dimmed the lights and marched through the rooms on New Year’s Eve banging on pots and pans to remove evil spirits rumoured to reside in the hotel.

The beauty of this hotels is that you don’t have to be famous or published or a hotel guest to pay a visit to the Algonquin, just slip in from the mean streets for a highball filled with bitter Campari—Parker’s favourite drink—and create your own banterous turn at a round table of your choosing.

So happy birthday to you, the Algonquin Hotel. May your oaklined walls smile with the memory of the words of the old century’s literary masters—and may your nights be blessed with the sweetness of modern-tongued wordmasters. And to you, Dorothy Parker, Faulkner, Fitzgerald and other friends of the Algonquin, may you rest knowing that your memory is celebrated in your old haunt daily by staff, local New Yorker’s, and visiting lovers of history and literature.

Parlor at the Algonquin Hotel by Stefanie Payne

The dedication plaque on the wall underneath the black awning entrance to the hotel reads:

Home of the Legendary Algonquin Round Table of the 1920’s… where such acid-tongued wits as Dorothy Parker, Robert Benehley and Alexander Woolcott traded barbs and bon mote daily show over lunch.  The century’s literary luminaries—William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, Harold Rose of the New Yorker, Gertrude Stein and James Thurber, among countless others—also found a haven within the oak-lined walls.”  – Designated a literary landmark July 5th 1996.

“There are only two kinds of people in the world that really count. One kind’s wheat and the other kind’s emeralds.”  – Edna Ferber

Stefanie Payne, CityRoom

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