Many may consider its existence mere legend; fantasy! Others may consider it a relic of a bye-gone era, but by golly some things in this world are not for sale; are not for refurbishment; are not going away with a flick of the eye. So it is for the Algonquin Hotel “Round Table.” If you are a historian or you have stock in the creative arena then you may already be well aware of the history and the wonder that the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel holds. But just like anything else in history; the only absolute truth to any of these facts lies in the participants. And even then truth may be relative.
The year was 1919 and the Algonquin Round Table was a spot where a group of individuals would meet daily and discuss and debate and share. What else are you going to do when you live in a place like New York City in the nineteen teens? This was no ordinary group though; its members included the likes of Heywood Brown, Edna Ferber, and George F. Kaufman. If those names don’t ring a bell, those who reaped their influence should: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway among others. However this group was also the brainchild behind a little publication called The New Yorker.
This coveted spot in the hotels Rose Room became something of a charity case. You see, these young writers, though exceedingly talented were not paid too much. So the Algonquin Hotel’s owner, Fred Case, learned of their daily congregation and offered them free celery and popovers as well as their own table which would come to be known as The Round Table.
One truth lost on many who didn’t know the particulars was that the group who congregated at the Algonquin Hotel didn’t call themselves “the Round Table” at all! This was a creation of the society pages. The self-described “Viscous Circle” thought little of that though. Drama critic Brooks Atkinson noted that “By force of character they changed the nature of American comedy and established the taste of a new period in the arts and theatre.” While that oversimplification may be giving the group more credit than they deserve, it also may not. Remember, all truth, particularly historical truth, is relative.
A friend of this group of intellectual elites; Harold Ross; helped the rag-tag bunch secure funding for The New Yorker and it was set. The legend of the New Yorker’s creation remains to this day at the Algonquin Hotel – all guests receive a free copy of the magazine. The Round Table restaurant is still there; as is the original Round Table where these same folks would meet. If you’re visiting New York City and you think you’ve seen it all; head on up to the Round Table Restaurant at the Algonquin Hotel and see if you can’t sense the specter of literary greatness in your midst.
59 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. 212-840-6800.