It was less than ten years ago that the Algonquin Hotel was officially designated a literary landmark. But for more than 100 years, this historic New York tradition has invited the creative and imaginative where drinks were made famous, where literary institutions of today would be formed and spun into gold, where legends were born. H.L. Menckin once called it “the most comfortable hotel in the world.”
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 Theater 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 ten 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 characterized 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 Ten Year Lunch, produced by Robert Altman, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh.
But it wasn’t just the Round Table that immortalized 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 good haunting? For more than fifty 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 rumored to reside in the hotel.
The beauty of this hotel is that you don’t have to be famous or published or a hotel guest to pay a visit to the Algonquin. Anyone can slip in the entrance on W. 44th street and order a highball filled with bitter Campari—Parker’s favorite drink—and create a banterous turn one of the Algonquin’s many round tables. Wit not included. The Algonquin Hotel’s dedication plaque 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.
Photo Courtesy of Al Hirschfeld, "The Algonquin Round Table"