LANDMARK SPOT This is the place that keeps the literary light burning eight decades after the Round Tablers left the table. There is a literary landmark plaque on the exterior.
There isn't a place in New York more important to Dorothy Parker's enduring legacy than the Algonquin Hotel (59 West 44th Street). Any devotee of Parker worth his weight in books will know that "The Gonk" is where the Round Table met for several years beginning in June 1919. The "Vicious Circle" is the most celebrated literary group in American literature. The Algonquin Hotel functions as the headquarters and clubhouse for all fans of Parker and The New Yorker, which was founded on its second floor.
The Algonquin is New York's most prestigious literary hotel. Except for perhaps the Hotel Chelsea, the Algonquin has more connections to literature and the arts than any other hotel in the city. For more than 100 years, it has played host to writers, editors, actors, producers and industry types. Stop in to the Algonquin lobby, day or night, and there are deals beings struck, proposals being pitched, and hand shaking across the little tables.
The Gonk was designed by architect Goldwin Starrett and opened on Nov. 22, 1902. It has a Renaissance limestone and red brick facade, is 12 stories tall, and has 174 guestrooms. It is on the same street as the New York Yacht Club (37 W. 44th), Harvard Club (27 W. 44th) and the Bar Association (42 W. 44th), hence the name "Club Row" it is near. One of the former locations of The New Yorker is just down the street at (28 W. 44th) and was the magazine office from 1935-1991. The Hippodrome, the most massive theater Broadway ever saw, sat across the street until it was demolished in 1939.
The hotel's first general manager, Frank Case, deserves a lot of the credit for the success of the business. When he was hired in 1902 the owner was going to call it the Puritan Hotel, until he put a stop to it. Case managed it until 1927, when he bought it. He curried favor with publishing and theater people, who always were welcome.
The Round Table first met in June 1919 for a luncheon to welcome home Aleck Woollcott, the drama critic for the New York Times, back from World War I. Among his friends were newspapermen Franklin P. Adams, Heywood Broun, George S. Kaufman, Marc Connelly, and Deems Taylor. Actresses Peggy Wood and Margalo Gillmore were invited, along with magazine writer Margaret Leech and publicists John Peter Toohey and William Murray. Dottie was the drama critic at Vanity Fair at the time, working alongside Robert Benchley, the managing editor, and Robert E. Sherwood, a staff writer. The Round Table consisted of approximately 24 people, who met for close to ten years.
At first they met in the Pergola Room (today called the Oak Room) until the group grew too large and Case moved them to the main dining room. He then gave them a round table. They would meet here in the Rose Room (today the Round Table Restaurant) for long luncheons, six days a week. Some nights, there would be a poker game upstairs in one of their rooms. At the time the Round Table began meeting, Parker was 25 and starting to make a name for herself. This was the most industrious period of her life.
After Parker split from her husband, Eddie, for a second time in 1924, she moved into a furnished suite at the Algonquin on the second floor. After the group disbanded, Parker was back there in 1932 when she attempted one of her three suicide attempts, this time with sleeping pills. She awoke in her hotel bed and called her doctor.
In 1998 the hotel underwent extensive renovations and the lobby was returned to its pre-war appearance. A new round table was installed and the hotel added more modern amenities. In 2004, the hotel completed a five-year, $8 million refurbishment program. In the summer the hotel closed for the first time in it's 102 years, and restorations were completed. The second floor of the hotel has 3,000 square feet of meeting room space, and two special events rooms. On other floors suites are named after distinguished guests. The Dorothy Parker Suite is large and well-furnished, with photos and letters (reproductions) on the walls. All upstairs hallways are decorated with wallpaper of New Yorker cartoons.
100 YEARS AND STILL GOING (Top) The gorgeous new painting of the Vicious Circle, painted by Natalie Ascencios, was unveiled 11/22/2002. (Bottom) The birthday cake the hotel cooked up, literally.
Stuart Silverstein edited Not Much Fun: The Lost Poems of Dorothy Parker in 1996. He says that the enduring legacy of the group of newspaper writers, magazine editors, critics, actors and hangers-on is timeless. "The first lunch at what later was called the Round Table probably occurred
eighty years ago," Silverstein said in 1999. "Yet the term "The Algonquin Round
Table" still holds substantial cultural resonance; for example, during the
past television season at least three sitcoms employed it as an ironic
punch line to skewer characters who spoke badly or stupidly. Is there any
other person, or institution, or event from the interwar period that could
possibly be used by a mass-market medium as an implicitly understood
cultural reference? I cannot think of any -- not even Lindbergh, not any more.
Perhaps the Stock Market crash."
In 1987 the Algonquin was designated a New York City landmark; however it is not protected by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Neither the interior or exterior are protected from renovation nor demolition. In 1996, the Friends of Libraries USA added the hotel to its list of National Literary Landmarks and a plaque was dedicated.
The lobby is quiet and one can imagine the ghosts that walk across the tiled black-and-white floor. A new painting of the Vicious Circle, painted by Natalie Ascencios, was unveiled in November 2002, on the occasion of the hotel's 100th anniversary. The Blue Bar was not in business when the Round Table was in residence for two reasons: (1) it was a horse stable at the time; (2) Prohibition was in effect until 1933. The Oak Room Cabaret is among the best in Manhattan, and it continues to showcase the best singers in the business. In the lobby is a small display case that holds Dorothy Parker and Round Table books and photos. The hotel sells souvenir coffee mugs, snow globes, and cuff links.
"Endurance is its own testament," Silverstein says. "Ultimately, the Round Table was just a parochial literary coterie, yet somehow it has survived in the mass public consciousness for more than three-quarters of a century. That is very important."
Drop into the hotel if you can. There are monthly walking tours to explore more of the history of the hotel and its famous past.
For a drink: The Blue Bar, in the hotel Getting there: Subway: 4, 5, 6 to Grand Central, 3 blocks away; 1, 2, 3, N, R, W, Q to Times Square, 2 blocks away; B, D, F to 42nd Street & Sixth Ave, 2 blocks away.