The Blue Bar at Algonquin
59 West 44th St between 5th and 6th Ave
A literary landmark made known by the “Vicious Circle,” this is one of the most civilized and elegant places to have a conversation over a superb cocktail.
The Algonquin gained notoriety when it became a regular meeting spot for the best literary and theatrical minds of the 1920s. For about 10 years a group of 24 brilliant personalities gathered daily to have lunch at the Algonquin Round Table, a replica of which stands in the back of the main dining room. Overlooking it is a painting depicting the Vicious Circle.
The Algonquin Hotel opened in 1902 but was christened in 1907 by its long-time manager and owner Frank Case, who molded it into the landmark that it is now. He changed its name from the boring “The Puritan” to “The Algonquin” – the name of the Native American tribe native to Manhattan.
The Round Table started in 1919 when a few friends met for a special lunch to welcome Aleck Woollcott, the New York Times drama critic, fresh from World War I combat. Woollcott’s roast proved to be so much fun that the group decided to meet regularly.
The acid-tongued circle of writers, critics, and journalists included Dorothy Parker, Franklin Pierce, Robert Sherwood, Harpo Marx, and Edna Ferber. As their sharp wit knew no mercy, they became known as the Vicious Circle. For about 10 years they met six days a week to exchange literary gossip and wisecracks over lunch.
Dorothy Parker, a writer, poet, and critic, was the Vicious Circle’s most famous member notorious for her merciless wit.
She was a master of such catchy one-liners as: “The first thing I do in the morning is brush my teeth and sharpen my tongue.” Her last wisecrack is forever immortalized on her grave – “Excuse my dust.”
While Dorothy Parker undeniably is the most prominent name associated with the Algonquin, the close second is the current feline resident named Matilda. She is so famous that she keeps an email account for fan mail and has people handle her correspondence.
As legend has it, sometime in the 1930s a stray cat wandered into the lobby and decided to stay. John Barrymore, a famed actor and an Algonquin regular, declared that a cat belonging to such a literary establishment had to be addressed accordingly. The first cat was named Hamlet. From then on the hotel has always kept a cat. All the males were named Hamlet and all the females, for some reason, were named Matilda.
Somehow, the Algonquin still has the aura of a literary place. Maybe it’s because it is still a spot where writers, actors, producers, and other industry types meet.
Visit the moody Blue Bar for its blue interior and pricey but potent custom cocktails. The best time to come is on a slow, cold Sunday afternoon.