1 June 2024 Susannah

Literary Hotels – The Algonquin

The Algonquin Hotel

I cannot do a series on literary hotels around the world without including the fabulous Algonquin Hotel in New York. Situated at 59 West 44th Street, it opened in 1902 and since that time it has hosted many famous writers.

Its especial fame comes from the group known as the Algonquin Round Table, which met there for lunches in the 1920s. Wit Dorothy Parker, humourist Robert Benchley, playwright Robert E. Sherwood, critic Alexander Woolcott, editor Harold Ross, writer Ruth Hale and producer Brock Pemberton were amongst its regulars, but others drifted in and out – Noel Coward, Talullah Bankhead, Harpo Marx and playwright Edna Ferber were just some of them. The conversation was sharp and acerbic, the lunches were long, and literary careers were made or broken over the famous round table. You can still lunch there today, under a portrait of those regulars.

Many other writers have stayed there – William Faulkner, James Thurber (who joked that the building’s elevators were so slow that people became writers out of boredom while waiting for them), Lady Augusta Gregory (who has the dubious distinction of being the first female guest to smoke in the Algonquin’s lobby in 1911), H.L. Mencken, Gertrude Stein, Sinclair Lewis, Helen Hayes, Arthur Miller, Norman Mailer, Tennessee Williams, John Osborne, and Maya Angelou. Did you know that Lerner and Loewe composed the score of My Fair Lady there? It has been a popular place with actors, musicians and artists as well.

In the late 20th century, writers on tour could get one free night at the hotel in return for an autographed copy of their new book, while discounts were offered to authors.

If you stay there, you also get the pleasure of a resident cat. If male, it is always Hamlet, and if female, then Matilda. The current cat, Hamlet VIII has his own ‘chief cat officer’ on the staff, a chaise longue in the lobby, takes part in the annual feline fashion show held there, celebrates his birthday in style, and graciously deigns to receive gifts from admirers.

Current prices for a room range from A$468 – $943 per night, but even if you don’t book a room, you should definitely consider lunch there – you feel you are following in such an amazing literary tradition, and hopefully you and your friends will have wit and laughter flowing loud and long.

Have you ever stayed in this hotel? Tell me your experience by leaving a comment here.

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Header image- The Algonquin Hotel, from https://www.booking.com/hotel/us/algonquin.en-gb.html
Body image- The Algonquin Round Table, https://algonquinroundtable.org/algonquin-hotel/
Body image- Hotel cat, Hamlet. https://www.algonquinhotel.com/the-algonquin-cat/

Comments (4)

  1. Jill McArtur

    New York 1988. Decided to pass on a great deal at the Waldorf Astoria due to my determination to have the full Dorothy Parker experience. As they say, be careful what you wish for. The Oak Room was closed for renovations, our room was minuscule, the furnishings old and tatty and our widow abutted a brick wall. Our enquiries to upgrade or remove elsewhere with a refund were met with classic NYC derision and disdain. Total disaster!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Oh dear, what a pity. I have lunched there but never stayed there. Sounds like your visit was pretty grim.

      • I have stayed there for a rather wonderful 3 or 4 days when travelling with my grown up daughter. . We shared a great room with that had an extra side room with space for writing and it was here I completed my epistolary novel Dear Venny, Dear Saffron with Queensland novelist Gary Crew responding by fax. It was published by Hodder and taken up in Ireland as well. Though not in the US!
        We went to Algonquin for supper and jazz!

        • Susannah Fullerton

          Oh how fabulous that you actually worked on a book there! I am envious.

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