Literary Landmarks: The Round Table at the Algonquin

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algonquin1Literary Landmarks is a series that invites YPGers to visit a place of literary significance in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco.

The first thing you need to know about the Algonquin is that it’s a gorgeous piece of New York City architecture. It was built in 1902 and continues to operate as a hotel and restaurant.  The moment you step in, there is a sense of stepping into a bygone era.

The second thing you need to know about the Algonquin is that it was once the haunt of a group of legendary writers and critics so catty they referred to themselves as the Vicious Circle. Their professional grade shade throwing—disguised as formal literary critiques—would have made the Plastics jealous.

After World War I, friends and colleagues Dorothy Parker (critic, poet, and author), Robert Benchley (writer and editor), and Robert E. Sherwood (author and playwright), started meeting regularly for lunch in the lobby of the hotel a few doors down from Vanity Fair, where they all worked. But the actual beginning of the Vicious Circle came a little later. The lunchtime crew threw a particularly memorable party celebrating the return of their friend, journalist Alexander Woollcott, from reporting about the war in Europe. Such a great time was had that the lunchtime crew expanded, and for the next decade a revolving door of authors, journalists, and critics met to eat, drink, and verbally eviscerate (I mean critique) the writers and actors of the day. In addition to the original three friends, the Circle—which actually originally sat at a square table—widened to include Edna Ferber, Franklin P. Adams, George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun, and Marc Connelly, with occasional attendance by the likes of Harpo Marx, Jane Grant, and composer Deems Taylor, among others.

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Photo by unknown (source)

This group of critics had an incredible impact on the literary community, the topics of their discussions often ending up in the Tribune, where Mr. Adams was a writer. They also had a profound influence on young writers, including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. The Round Table was also the birthplace of a small magazine that a few of you may have heard of. Round Table member and magazine editor Harold Ross was able to use his friends’ connections in the publishing world to find funding for The New Yorker, proving once and for all that it pays to be on top of your networking game.

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A Vicious Circle by Natalie Ascencios

Today the Round Table members sit in permanent residence over their usual spot, immortalized by artist Natalie Ascencios in her painting A Vicious Circle. Literary minded diners can join them at the restaurant and enjoy the ambience and the history, but be prepared to pay for it. While the Algonquin is a great spot to enjoy one of the Blue Bar’s signature cocktails, the experience alone will cost you on average $17 per drink.

GRADES (on a 1 – 5 scale):

Fun: 3. The Algonquin is a sophisticated, unique hotel with an incredible history. It gets points for being a place for literary geeks to visit and actually sit where literary legends have sat, but at the end of the day, it’s the lobby of a hotel.

Cool: 5. Price point aside, the Algonquin is like a museum where you get to take part in the exhibit. If the idea of placing your tush in roughly the same space as Dorothy Parker, Harold Ross, and Edna Ferber sounds like a good time, this is place is for you.

Affordability: … Buahahahahahahaha! Did I mention the $17 cocktails? Because the cocktails are $17. That’s before you actually get anything to eat. Seriously, though, I have to give this place a 1. My bank account wants to slap me for even considering it. But it would be worth saving up for a special night out.

NYC Experience: 5. It’s a minute’s walk from Times Square, and while that’s not exactly a selling point for me (I loathe Midtown), it is part of the quintessential NYC experience.  The Algonquin is on a quiet side street if you’d prefer to avoid Times Square, and it is also theater district–adjacent, which makes it the perfect spot for pre-theater drinks.

Total Points: 14. Even if you wind up only going to the Algonquin once, it’s worth the trip. I highly recommend breaking out your wingtips and flapper dresses.

This article was contributed by YPG member Camille Redrick. For more information, check out our Contributing Writers page.

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