Skip to main content

The Algonquin Hotel is the Most Famous Hotel You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

The Algonquin Hotel
Image used with permission by copyright holder
The Algonquin Hotel is the most famous hotel you’ve probably never heard of. The century-old New York institution holds its own among the posh hotels, but it’s always had a flare for the dramatic. For example, this space has played host to some of the most influential people of 20th century American arts and letters. And it has a cat (more on that later).

It was originally named The Puritan, but, fortunately, Frank Case, the beloved owner who gave the hotel such a rich and fascinating legacy, renamed it the Algonquin after the Native American tribe who once lived in the area. It’s tucked away on West 44th, not far from the crowds and lights of Times Square, and, from the outside, very little seems to have changed since it was built in 1902. Inside, it has managed to maintain the opulent, rich design of the early 20th century, while incorporating modern conveniences.

The hotel had its first (of many) dates with destiny in 1919 when a crowd of writers, critics, playwrights, attended a party there. They had such a blast, they decided to meet daily for lunch: Case, eager to encourage them, provided a free lunch of celery and popovers. These luminaries and tastemakers (many of whom were massive influences on the likes of Fitzgerald and Hemingway) would become the Algonquin Round Table. They, however, referred to themselves as “The Vicious Circle.”

In brief, the Vicious were:

  • Academy Award winner, story storyist, playwright, poet, and critic Dorothy Parker, whose wit should’ve been considered a lethal weapon. Supposedly, she’s still haunting the place, pushing noisy children.
  • Robert Benchley, Vanity Fair’s first editor and an Academy Award-winning actor.
  • Harold Ross, the guy who started The New Yorker after winning the money in a poker game at the hotel. Each guest still gets a free copy.
  • Robert Sherwood, a four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and an Oscar winner.
  • Alexander Woolcott, who often wrote his New York Times theatre reviews upstairs.
  • George Kaufman, the playwright who only won two measly Pulitzers.
  • Edna Ferber, who spun gold with her plays and books, nabbing her Pulitzer for “So Big.”
  • Heywood Broun, husband of Ruth Hale, as well as a sports writer and founder of the Newspaper Guild.
  • Franklin Adams, who was insanely famous columnist at the time.
  • Marc Connelly, yet another Pulitzer-winner at the table.
  • Harpo Marx, Ruth Hale, and Jane Grant, among others, showed up from time to time.

The Vicious were famous for their barbs, badinage, and acrobatic conversations. By 1925, even their daily lunch was famous.

But the hotel was also scandalous in its day. The Algonquin was one of the first high-end establishments to allow actors to stay, a somewhat controversial decision. Legendary actor John Barrymore, grandfather of our current Barrymore, Drew, left several lasting marks.  He suggested they put blue gels over the lights in the bar because it made people look better (or maybe it was easier on his hangovers). Case did, and it’s still famously known as The Blue Bar.

Around the same time, Case took in a stray cat named Billy. Strangely, after Billy passed away, days later, in walked another cat he dubbed Rusty. Barrymore wouldn’t abide by such a plebeian name, and Rusty became Hamlet. The hotel continues the tradition of having a cat named Hamlet, though if she’s a female, she’s named Matilda. The reigning cat is Hamlet the 8th, formerly a feral Long Islander who now has arguably the most famous cat position in the world — from commercials in Japan to having his own social media manager. You can even bring your own cat during your stay.

Singers have also found refuge and fame within the walls of the Algonquin. Their famous Oak Room Supper Club cabaret show hosted the likes of Greta Keller, Karen Akers, and Diana Krall, and helped launch Harry Connick Jr. Sadly, it closed in 2012.

However, the Algonquin remains a sanctuary for writers and readers alike. They used to offer touring writers a night free in exchange for a signed copy of the book, though now they get a reduced rate. Honoring the Round Table, supposedly discounts at lunch are offered for struggling writers. Regardless, it’ll be a stay to write home about.

You’ll never sleep in a more storied hotel.

Featured image courtesy of Peter Kramer/Getty Images.

Topics
Elizabeth Dahl
Elizabeth Dahl is a southern girl in the heart of Los Angeles who lived far too long before learning what an incredible food…
This airline will add 18 nonstop routes for winter adventurers
Whether you're going skiing or to an island this winter, Alaska Airlines has you covered
Mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe

Winter travel lets you explore the mountain landscape, enjoy the snow, and polish your ski and ride skills. Or, if you’ve had enough of the chill, you can head to warmer climates, soak up some rays, and recharge your system. Both let you commune with nature in beautiful places. 

To make your winter trips even better, Alaska Airlines will offer 18 new nonstop flights to sun and ski destinations around the world. Whether you want to push the limits or relax in peace, there’s a flight to suit your needs.
For winter 2025, Alaska Airlines takes you to the mountains (or the sun)

Read more
The best Greek islands to visit: These locales are true gems
Add these islands to your list
Greece

Greece, a land of ancient legends and breathtaking views, is known for its thousands of islands scattered across the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Out of these islands, a few hundred are inhabited and offer incredible cultural experiences. With so many options, choosing the best Greek islands to visit can be an overwhelming task. To help you navigate this enchanting archipelago, we’ve curated a list of the best Greek islands to visit, each offering a distinctive experience that will leave you with memories you’ll remember forever. 
Sifnos

Located in the Cyclades between Paros and Milos, Sifnos is a small, charming island perfect for a laid-back Greek getaway. Accessible by a few-hour ferry ride from Athens, Sifnos is known for its remarkable number of churches– 365 to be exact. No matter where you are on the island, you’ll likely see several churches dotting the landscape. 

Read more
Now you can use your Hilton points at almost 400 more boutique hotels
Hilton adds hundreds of boutique luxury hotels to its portfolio
Nobu Hotel Marbella

Nobu Hotel Marbella, Marbella, Spain Hilton

Hilton is significantly increasing its luxury hotel portfolio, adding almost 400 properties from the Small Luxury Hotels of the World (SLH) collection. Now, guests can book a stay at these destinations via channels like Hilton.com and the Hilton Honors app.

Read more