Algonquin Hotel Cats: End of an Era by Layla Morgan Wilde
The storied Algonquin Hotel of literary and feline fame holds a special place for me since moving to Westchester County 22 years ago. That ended on my recent visit there to visit the hotel and resident cat, Hamlet. The hotel, one of those old, midtown hotels brimming with history and charm is a short walk from Grand Central.
Years before I started blogging, I’d pop inside the lobby hoping to glimpse Matilda, a scruffier predecessor to Ragdoll Matilda. The hotel then placed a mini upholstered lounge by the front door. The hotel, since then has been renovated 4 times and is onto resident feline #13, Hamlet Vlll. It’s too to say whether 13 is an unlucky number, but I will say, I miss the Matildas and the hotel before it was sold to the Marriott chain.
I was invited to Matilda’s birthday parties over the years and loved every minute. When Matilda retired and later died, something shifted. Of course the hotel cat tradition had to continue but I visited the city less often, then the pandemic struck. I haven’t taken the train to the city in ages, and I refuse to go on subway anymore with the growing crime rate but thankfully, Grand Central is still as iconic and beautiful as ever.
With Spooky season around the corner I found a video about the allegedly haunted Algonquin with views of the hotel and Hamlet.
I wanted to show the “Gonk” to a friend from Finland and check out Hamlet who replaced Matilda in 2018.
This was one of my happy moments with her. She became more bitey in her senior years like a true Diva.
How times change. One of the things I loved about the hotel are the cozy nooks and the famous round table. All gone now with the most recent renovation. It’s sterile and soulless. Poor Dorothy Parker is probably rolling in her grave. The most shocking thing was seeing the famous round table replaced with a modern, white marble table. Granted, the old table was a replica but still. The painting that hung next to it for years adding a cozy, warm vibe now hangs (way too high) near the bar. The famous Blue Bar was a favorite place for a drink but no more. It’s now a part of the lobby with no privacy and too brightly lit.
The Algonquin Round Table: A Literary Oasis
The Algonquin Round Table, often referred to simply as “The Round Table,” was a remarkable group of individuals whose intellectual banter and wit left an indelible mark on American literature and culture. It counted luminaries like Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, and George S. Kaufman among its members.
From 1919 for a decade, these sharp minds would gather daily at the Algonquin for lunch, engaging in spirited conversations, wordplay, and playful jabs at one another. They discussed literature, politics, theater, and life in general, often with a razor-sharp wit that made their gatherings legendary. It was in this environment that literary works were critiqued, ideas were exchanged, and friendships were forged.
The Cats of the Round Table
The tradition of Algonquin Hotel cats became an extension of the Round Table’s legacy. Cats, known for their enigmatic and independent nature, seemed fittingly whimsical companions for this group of literary giants.
A Purrfect Tradition Begins
Our story starts back in the 1920s when Frank Case, the owner of the Algonquin, welcomed a stray ginger cat named Billy into the hotel. Billy quickly found a home within the hotel’s elegant halls and soon became a beloved resident. Actor John Barrymore was playing Hamlet at the time and thought Billy needed a more literary name. The current Hamlet is the 8th, a short-haired ginger rescue from a feral colony on Long Island. There is no rhyme or reason for hotel cat succession but all female hotel cats were named Matilda of which there were five.
During the last Matilda’s reign, the hotel underwent a renovation and management decided that some sections needed to be off limits to cats. Matilda was outfitted with a radio collar, the invisible fence kind, dogs wear. I don’t think she ever liked wearing it. I was curious if Hamlet would be likewise restricted.
On a gorgeous, crisp September day, we entered the hotel and a brighter, more modern lobby surprised me. I peeked towards the door to the luggage room with a cat door. They’ve replaced the battered old kitty door with a fancy, clear plastic one but that’s not all. They’ve carved out a space near the front door as Hamlet’s Room.
Matilda’s lair when she wanted to get away from the crowds (and have a pee or a snack). I didn’t have access and can’t report what Hamlet does in the new baggage room but he does have a great view of 44th Street.
The Hamlet nook is beautifully designed but what?! no pillow or any soft cozy spot for catnaps. The stairs look slippery. Hamlet is about 8 years old now, a senior and I hope they make provisions for his comfort as he ages.
It’s a very short video. I was upset and couldn’t wait to leave.
Hamlet lounged by the window beyond the reach of grabby hands. He turned one bored eye towards me as if to say, not today. His pupils were dilated and I won’t speculate on the reason but I do know here primary caregiver, Alice was away all summer. His fur looked in need of a brushing.
My cat whispering skills fell on deaf ears. Hamlet would not be accepting any petting and I respected that.
The Algonquin Round Table may be a thing of the past, but its legacy lives on in the cats that bear the name of Shakespeare’s iconic character. These feline ambassadors continue to enchant guests and visitors, reminding them of the enduring allure of the written word and the timeless charm of the Algonquin Hotel. In this way, hopefully the literary legacy of the Round Table is kept alive, one Hamlet at a time.
If you’re in the city, do pay a visit. Perhaps your experience will be more positive than mine, but I won’t be imbibing their over-priced cocktails anytime soon. The hotel rooms are nice enough but there are hotels twice at nice the half the price. For me, the Algonquin Hotel cats is the end of an era.
It’s fitting to end with a quote from Dorothy Parker.
“And when it ends, only those places where you have known sorrow are kindly to you.
If you revisit the scenes of your happiness, your heart must burst of its agony.”