This is a place somewhat unvisited by time—and, for a number of years, by me. It used to be my stomping grounds…a place I visited so frequently that the staff would invite me to their basement poker games. Or let me run the elevator (the only “civilian” ever to do so, I was told.) Or try to set me up with their good-looking sons. Belinda and I spent last evening here. By the time we arrived at the un-NewYorkerish early hour of five, the place was already packed.

The Algonquin is a watering hole steeped in the lore of literature, and rich in the ways of the legendary conversationalists. Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Oscar Levant used to spend time here, honing their sharp wits upon one another’s heads. The walls are painted in thousands upon thousands of words, conversations dried to dark, embedded in the stain of the old wood. The space where those words are born nightly is arranged in cozy groupings of armchairs and settees, made for conversations and for people watching. A bigger-than-life grandfather clock chimes politely from the place where it has always stood, an odd reminder of time in a timeless place.

In the thirty-odd years that I have been coming here, the place has not changed much, except for new furniture and a new treatment of the old Rose Room. No one, thankfully (now that the place is owned by The Marriott chain), has stripped all the wood to contemporary blonde. No one has replaced the comfy furniture with Scandinavian modern. Hell, no one has even repainted the hand-painted light sconces whose art has been steadily faded for years. It’s darkish in here, the perfect illumination for talk. And that is all as it should be. The drinks are ridiculously expensive, but they are honest pours; this is a place that knows without being told what a great martini is.

People who come here come here to talk, to be convivial. This is the quiet theme park of the intellectual, the urbane, the convivial…and, often, the tourist. It’s a room that invites epigrams. Confessions of the soul. Spirited debate. Heartfelt disclosures. People-watching, surreptitious (and not). Assignations (there is, after all, a hotel above this conversation-space, for the suddenly bed-ready.) One wants to be mysterious and interesting, here. One wants to be stylish, here. One wants to say something urbane and sophisticated. One does not want to sully the atmosphere with the mundane or ordinary. One wants even their curse words to be artful.

I am glad to have been here again. I always was. I expect that the next time I make it back here, I will be glad in exactly the same way.

 

 

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