On 44th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues is, from the exterior, a fairly discreet, 120-year-old pre-war building. Once you enter The Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection you will find a 181-room hotel possessing a long and colorful history with the arts and literature facing center stage.
In a great midtown location, The Algonquin is a block from the jewelry district – in case gold and diamonds are calling – plus many other forms of retail therapy are close at hand, such as Bergdorf Goodman, Tiffany’s, and Macy’s, to name a few. For those needing a more immediate literary fix, the New York Public Library is two blocks away, and Central Park and its zoo a pleasant stroll up 5th Avenue.
The hotel’s lovely art deco lobby boasts several Corinthian-crowned columns, geometrically corbeled ceilings, and molding-framed doors, windows, and elevators. The painted glass and brass sconces have adorned the lobby’s walls since 1902. But make no mistake, the Algonquin will not only appeal to late baby boomer loyalist artists but will also appeal to Gen Xers and Millennials.
The Algonquin’s current general manager, the amiable Willis Loughhead, has managed a fairly tricky feat: to seamlessly cross-pollinate interest to those across the decades. For example, The Algonquin’s piano player at its Blue Bar & Lounge can play both Rat Pack music and hip hop. Loughhead has also instituted other activities such as the ‘Broadway Program,’ where guests can have cocktails, lunch, or dinner with a Broadway musical cast member, then go see the show with premium orchestra seating. Loughhead has additional creative and novel ideas that will be coming down the pike in early 2024 and onward.
A ten-foot carved grandfather clock stands proudly in the lobby’s center and possesses a marvelous backstory. In the 1930’s when Frank Case was the hotel’s general manager, a guest found himself unable to pay his bill. The guest returned to the hotel schlepping the massive timepiece telling Case, “Here is my payment.” The clock has remained in place ever since. For the past six months the clock’s internal time pieces are offsite being repaired by a Danish clockmaker. Soon the clock will proudly chime once again.
If you have insomnia, no problem. On Algonquin’s second floor is the Helen Hayes Business Center with an upright Yamaha piano once belonging to another resident. After sending a few emails, you can tap a few ebony and ivory keys, hum a few bars, or write the prologue of the next great American novel. If writer’s block sets in, then you can work up a sweat in the spacious gym containing Cybex machines, Lifecycle treadmills, elliptical machines, and free weights.
To put guests in a creative mood, many guest room doors have framed statements on them by notables such as Dorothy Parker, Norman Mailer, John Barrymore and Errol Flynn, all one-time long-term Algonquin residents.
I hung my hat in room 406, a beautiful, 550 sq.ft. suite with a mirrored foyer, enormous lounger couch, and dining table/work area. A 60-inch flatscreen television and antique-style telephone completed the living area.
The large bedroom had black-out shades and a supremely comfortable king-size bed with high-count cotton sheets that kept me in a coma-level deep sleep. Calming-hued, textured wallpaper and art deco furnishings and lighting added period panache. Plenty of strategically located USB ports and electrical plugs, plus a walk-in closet, 48-inch flatscreen TV, and another antique-style telephone made convenience paramount.
The bathroom boasted modern brass fixtures and a gorgeous, teal-turquoise glazed sink that stood out beautifully against the light gray wallpaper and black-and-white art deco mirror. The modern walk-in shower with accented black-and-white tile trim preserved the integrity of the building’s glorious art deco genesis.
As I had a meeting downtown, I popped into Daniel Boulud’s newest and beautiful brainchild, Le Gratin. Even if you don’t have a meeting downtown it’s well worth going downtown and imagining you’re in Lyon. The wrought iron lamps, Mediterranean tile trim, and Tiffany-style sconces set the Lyonnais tone for the gustatory pleasures to come.
The poached leek salad with roasted hazelnuts had me dreaming of summer, while the duck foie gras terrine with brioche was pure perfection. Normally when dining at a Boulud restaurant I would order steak-frites because I’ve found no one makes them better than Boulud. This time though I was swayed to try the evening’s special dish: stuffed cabbage with beef, pork, veal sweetbreads, duck breast, and chicken liver served with velvety puréed potatoes all so delicious it left me weak-kneed. This recipe was Boulud’s grandmother’s; I don’t know her, in fact I never met her, but I deeply, deeply love her.
If you are still feeling carnivorous another evening, you can find The Strip House, Steakhouse & Cocktail Lounge on the same block as The Algonquin. Though a bit institutional, it has a raw bar and a good selection of steaks and enhancements, such as black truffle hollandaise.
Pre-or post-theater you’ll want to have a drink or two at Algonquin’s Blue Bar & Lounge. It’s lovely, comfortable, and you never know who will be there. If you’re feeling peckish, they have a great classic Caesar and some hearty sandwiches, including a traditional Reuban and a Cape Cod-style lobster roll. Of truly critical importance, the menu has my all-time favorite dessert: Junior’s Deli cheesecake.
If you are feeling Greek, a few doors down from the Algonquin is Kellari Seafood Taverna. In addition to a comprehensive lunch menu – try the Greek salad and grilled calamari – they serve Sunday brunch with bottomless Mimosas and have a three-course pre-theater set menu.
There always seems to be something going on at The Algonquin. On Tuesday evenings there are cabaret performances while Thursdays are piano bar nights. October brings breast cancer awareness events featuring local artists, jewelers, and auctions. Other upcoming events such as book signings are on tap.
Hamlet the orange coated resident cat is a feline ambassador like no other. Originally from Florida, “Hamlet spends about 40% of his day checking-in guests,” according to Loughhead. Hamlet's main job description is to charm guests. While admittedly I am a dog person and not a cat person, Hamlet managed to charm even me. When not engaging in his well-honed feline diplomacy skills, Hamlet could be seen executing the other critical part of his employment contract: the fine art of napping. Frankly, this may be Hamlet’s finest skill which often occurs atop the lobby’s majestic grandfather clock. If cats in fact have nine lives, then by all accounts, this one must be Hamlet’s very finest. Happy travels!
Julie L. Kessler is a writer, attorney, legal columnist and author of the award-winning memoir, "Fifty-Fifty: the Clarity of Hindsight." She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com
Written by Julie L. Kessler
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