“The Algonqiun Round Table set the standard for literary style and wit long beyond it ten-year duration. After the first World War, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Robert E. Sherwood regularly lunched at the hotel, which was located a few doors away from Vanity Fair, where they all worked.
For one glorious decade beginning in June of 1919, members’ opinions and writings strongly influenced young writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Harold Ross, legendary editor and friend of the Round Table, was so inspired he created The New Yorker and secured funding for it at the hotel. It made its debut February 21, 1925, staffed by many of the members of the Algonquin crowd.” - The History and Traditions of the Algonquin, no author given.
After years of procrastination, the better half and I finally took a trip to New York City this past weekend. The irony is the relative ease it takes to get to the Big Apple from Washington, an hour flight from National to LaGuardia, and a 20 minute cab ride to mid-Manhattan. (We thought about taking Amtrak, knowing it would arrive near our hotel, but their fares are just too high).
Back in late December, the stars had finally aligned. After showing me a review of the Algonqiun Hotel, and expressing her desire to see the Metropolitan Museum of Art and The Lion King, Roberta asked me if I wanted to go.
How about the weekend of the 12th? The New York Giants Historical Society is putting on a get together. I’ve always wanted to go.
My first trip to New York City came in 1964. I was just eight at the time. My parents get a lot of credit for driving the six of us all the way from North Carolina. We stayed with relatives on my Mom’s side. She was born and raised a Jersey shore gal, and spent time in New York with the circus as a professional ice skater.
I remember so very little of that trip but I’m certain I must have been absolutely thrilled. We went to the World’s Fair and I recall seeing Shea Stadium lit up at night.
On Friday morning, the weather tried to spoil the start of our trip. “High winds aloft” the pilot said after parking the plane at a spot just off the runway. Was our flying luck finally catching up? We worried about a significant delay but soon took off for the short flight.
One of the fun things about travel is researching your destination. After reading the review, I went to the web and read more about The Algonquin. Located on West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenue, the hotel, opened in 1902, is both a registered historic landmark and a National Literary Landmark.
In the early 20s, Harold Ross secured funding for The New Yorker on the second floor of the hotel. The latest issue of the magazine can be found in each room. Our room also had a refurbished black writing desk by the window. What an invitation, I thought to myself, to sit down and pen some thoughts old-school style. Pressed for time on our criminally short trip, I never got around to doing so.
We most certainly found time to check out the famed Oak Room, although only a quick peek inside. The famed Round Table, a group of playwrights, writers, critics and actors met there (later in the Rose Room). They lunched daily from 1919 to 1929.
Among the “Vicious Circle” were baseball writers Franklin P. Adams (Baseball’s Sad Lexicon) and Heywood Broun, who covered the Giants starting in 1919. Broun, winner of the Hall of Fame’s 1970 J.G. Taylor Spink Award, wrote the famous “look of eagles” description of John McGraw’s young players. He also founded and presided over the American Newspaper Guild (now called the Newspaper Guild).
The hotel is small and noisy during the day for street-side rooms (go figure), but its primo location, history and even Matilda, the beautiful rag doll house cat, add value. The wait for the elevator turned out not as quick as a New York minute, but patrons can kill the time by reading wallpapered Mankoff cartoons that line the hallways. Reading them took me back to the late 90s when Roberta subscribed to the weekly magazine. Can’t say I was an avid reader but finding a Roger Angell piece on baseball was always heavenly.
The Giants get together took place in a dimly-lit backroom at Forlini’s Italian Restaurant in Chinatown. Guest speaker Mike McCormick spoke in a refreshingly honest manner for the crowd of about 20. Had steroids been available, he said, some of the players would have taken them. Amphetamines were the drug of choice back then, swilled with alcohol.
In talking of the ’57 season, he said the Giants and Dodgers “had to go.” Considering his audience, many of whom would more than likely disagree with that sentiment, I thought that statement was quite remarkable. But it showed he was not pandering.
Gray-haired, tanned and looking fairly trim and fit, the 1967 N.L. Cy Young Award winner spoke for about an hour. He came to the Giants from California. No minor league experience, just a record of mowing down American Legion batters. He recounted his initiation into the bigs in ‘56. Whitey Lockman nailed McCormick’s only set of cleats to the wooden floor of the Polo Grounds. The kid lefty got his revenge by tying Lockman’s glove to the dugout wall. When skipper Bill Rigney whistled him in to the game, Lockman grabbed his glove to no avail.
Before I made this trip, I was worried that I wouldn’t fit in with these fans. But I was welcomed just fine. Bill, wearing an SF sweater, related how he was born in the late 50s. He sees the Giants at Shea and San Francisco and takes road trips. Armelio was also pleasant to talk to. He told me his first year at the Polo Grounds was 1931, and that his Dad saw Mathewson and McGraw. Another older gentleman, with a sad and distant look in his eyes, reminisced about his days at the Polo Grounds. Keith, sitting across from me and also a Mets fan, spoke with an accent and told some colorful stories.
I’m richer for rubbing shoulders with these guys (and two gals), and very glad we finally made this trip.