Quintessential New York Hotel: The Algonquin Reopens

Lerner and Loewe were working 24 hours a day at the Algonquin Hotel, writing My Fair Lady, when the hotel’s owner threatened to remove the piano from their suite if they didn’t quiet down. The Algonquin Hotel, Times Square, Autograph Collection is New York City’s oldest continuously operating hotel (opened in 1902). It was also the first prominent hotel in the city that allowed women to stay there alone. Now, the iconic hotel has reopened its doors with a new Lobby, Blue Bar Restaurant & Lounge, Oak Room, and new food and beverage concepts.

Perhaps no other hotel in New York can boast such literary aristocracy. Maya Angelou stayed at the Algonquin whenever she came to New York; and while she may not have done her actual writing in the hotel rooms, she wrote the screenplay (adapted from her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings) on Algonquin stationary. Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford honeymooned at the Algonquin. While promoting Robin Hood in 1922, Fairbanks shot arrows off the hotel’s roof for the benefit of the press. Harold Ross, founder and editor of The New Yorker, often played poker in the hotel and won enough money to finance the magazine.

In June 1919 the hotel hosted daily meetings of the Algonquin “Round Table,” an assemblage of journalists, authors, publicists and actors who gathered over lunch in the main dining room. They met there for ten years. Notables included Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman, Harpo Marx, Dorothy Parker, and Harold Ross. Later, Edna Ferber, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun, and others. All members were affiliated with the Algonquin Round Table, although they referred to themselves as the Vicious Circle. The group founded The New Yorker Magazine which all hotel guests receive free to this day. (Each suite also receives Vanity Fair. The lobby reading area and vintage reading rack offer Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Round Table regular Robert Benchley, said, “Let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.” Today, some of the cocktails are named after the celebrities who hobnobbed here. For instance, there’s the Dorothy Parker (Dorothy Parker gin, vermouth, apricot and orange bitters), “The Writer’s Block” (Partida Blanco, aloe liqueur and cucumber) and The Hemingway Daiquiri (Bacardi silver, lime, grapefruit, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur).

But perhaps the most famous resident was a stray orange tabby cat which wandered into the hotel and was adopted by a hotel staff who named it Hamlet VIII in honor of hotel guest John Barrymore (Hamlet was his greatest stage role). Barrymore is also responsible for the color of the Blue Bar Restaurant & Lounge, as he insisted that actors looked better under blue lights. The renovated Blue Bar’s signature indigo lighting remains, creating a dramatic ambience and complemented by backlit shelves that radiate powder blue and champagne-colored hues.

Piano keys tinkle, adding to the atmosphere of The Algonquin Hotel. Often, the artist is Darnel White (NYC based music director/composer/ arranger/vocal coach/ musical theatre artist) playing and singing Cab Calloway and Ella Fitzgerald.

The hotel is a mixture of old and new. Architecture and interior design firm Stonehill Taylor, has combined design elements of the Roaring 20s along with richly textured furniture, velvet drapery, theatrical lighting and historical art pieces through the hotel. Behind the lobby desk is a custom 3D art piece created from the pages of books that belonged to past guests.

The Algonquin’s private event space, The Oak Room, has been expanded to 1,650 square feet and can host groups of over 105 people seated theater-style. The newly-designed venue maintains the room’s traditional oak wall paneling with additional Hirschfeld pieces and paired with brilliant white accents to create playful movement in this contemporary meeting space, while retaining The Oak Room’s traditionally warm feel.

Two second floor meeting rooms have been updated with boardroom tables and carpeting featuring patterns inspired by stacks of books. Adorning the walls are photos of Helen Hayes, known as the “First Lady of American Theater” (and whose namesake theater is on the same block). The library has two bookshelves filled with books signed by their authors.

“We are so excited to mark a new chapter for this iconic New York hotel,” says Willis Loughhead, General Manager of The Algonquin Hotel. “We look forward to inviting guests to experience its re-envisioned spaces that have been transformed with a fresh, modern take on a classical design that pays homage to the hotel’s storied past and the theatrical and literary characters who frequented the hotel in the 1900s.”

With its luxurious renovation mixed with the literary ghosts of the past, the Algonquin is an ideal place to come to drink, eat or sleep. Look closely and you night even see the ghosts of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, J.D. Salinger, Tennessee Williams, Nora Ephron or Lou Reed.

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