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New York City's Algonquin Hotel Recalls the 1930s

By Rosalie Earle, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September  05, 2010 --NEW YORK -- The first time I was in the lobby of New York City's Algonquin Hotel, I spotted an older woman on a couch in the corner. The marcel wave of her hairstyle and her slinky, long dress made me wonder if she had been sitting there since the early '30s.

That's the time period you enter when you come from 44th Street into dimly lit lobby with its oak paneled walls. The decor has been described as Edwardian with its leather and tapestry-covered sofas and chairs grouped in sitting arrangements.

The Algonquin was in its heyday in the 1920s and early '30s. That's when the best, brightest and wittiest of playwrights, newspapermen and authors gathered there.

The venerable hotel still delights theatergoers and literary types. The coffee table in your room has thick volumes on the history of each New York theater and on every musical produced on the Great White Way.

The wallpaper in the corridors is printed with cartoons from The New Yorker -- making the elevator come quicker.

The presence of Matilda, too, is a tradition that continues today. The housecat often hangs out in the lobby, lounging on a luggage cart and barely tolerating all the flashes from camera-toting guests.

A cat has had the run of the hotel -- except the kitchen -- since the late '30s when a forlorn cat came into the hotel looking for food and shelter. The owner, Frank Case, welcomed the cat, just as he did struggling writers and actors.

Case nourished the creative juices of a group of writers by saving them a table -- a round table -- for lunch and giving them free celery and popovers.

Over a decade, a group gathered there for lunch each day to exchange barbs and gossip, much of which ended up printed in a New York Tribune column. Some of the barbs have been legendary, such as Dorothy Parker's remark upon hearing that President Calvin Coolidge had died. "How can you tell?" she asked.

One afternoon, author Edna Ferber arrived at the Algonquin in a new suit very similar to one Noel Coward was wearing. "You look almost like a man," Coward said as he greeted her. "So do you," replied Ferber.

That's just a sampling of the humorous, sometimes vicious, remarks that were exchanged during the lunch hour. Many are compiled in a binder included in the room's reading material.

I have my own Algonquin story. Several years ago, two girl friends and I were staying there. JoAnn went out to get us our morning coffee and muffins.

On the way down in the elevator, an attractive man struck up a conversation with her.

They chatted as they both headed for the coffee shop next door. Turns out he had a place in the Hamptons and an daughter who was "an up-and-coming actress."

When JoAnn came back to the room, she asked, "Do you all know who Lindsay Lohan is?" We didn't. "I don't either," said JoAnn, "but her dad just bought us breakfast."

The next day on the plane, I saw a USA Today story about Lohan (and, it seems, every day since then).

We stayed then and again just recently in a suite. The one-bedroom has a king bed and the living room has a pull-out couch, which makes for comfortable and affordable accommodations, when the tab is divided three ways.

Even if I am not staying at the Algonquin, I still like to use it as meeting place before or after the theater. At $18 with tax and tip for a gin and tonic, a drink there must be regarded as a treat.

More reasonable is a prix-fixe theater dinner offered just in the lobby lounge. A three-course dinner was $39.

The Algonquin opened in 1902 under the name The Puritan. That was too staid for Case, who came on as manager in 1907 and as owner in 1927. He renamed the hotel.

It was at the Algonquin that Harold Ross created The New Yorker and secured financing for it at the hotel. That's more reading material for guests, who get a complementary copy of the weekly magazine. I never got around to the paperback I brought along.

For more information on the hotel, visit www.algonquinhotel.com

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Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.

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To see more of The Charleston Gazette, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.wvgazette.com.

Copyright (c) 2010, The Charleston Gazette, W.Va.

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