“Nothing is more responsible for the good old days than a bad memory.”
– Franklin P. Adams
The Algonquin Hotel is stuck somewhere in time. Its charm is early 1900s. Its weird persona spans eons. Marriott bought it 10 years ago and did to it exactly what you’d expect. Nevertheless The Round Table remains, the cat remains (supposedly) but has been banished from The Oak Room which means NO ONE EVER SEES HER. Seriously?! The Blue Room remains. So weird and scary you would not be surprised to see Harold Ross sitting at the bar drinking a Dorothy Parker…with Dorothy Parker. But those beautiful iron railings also survive, leading you to the odd makeovers in those wonderful old rooms. Alas. Je suis chez moi.
“The Vicious Circle” was a self-named group of writers, journalists, and aspiring performers who met everyday for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 to 1929. Many went on to fame in newspapers, magazines, radio, Hollywood, and Pulitzer Prizes. But mostly they were hard-drinking wise-cracking poker-playing devotees of wit who laughed so uproariously and tastelessly at their own jokes that even Click & Clack would turn red. But as time goes by wit is going with it. The thing about wit is the pretentiousness it evokes and the quick tendency toward insult. Practical jokes, insults, wisecracking…wit…are all things of the past. Young people today will talk with you about craft beer as long as you like but let slip with a wisecrack and…well…better to not. Today wit is bad form. In the days of The Vicious Circle wit was art form.
An infamous witticism says familiarity breeds contempt and by 1930 the members of The Vicious Circle found they had nothing left to say to each other. How many times can you hurl the same insults and take winnings from the same players before it all becomes wit-less? Maybe young people today have something to say after all. Which brings us to the photo hanging on my door in Room 604…
The originator of the quote is not in the photograph but that is Dorothy Parker founding member of The Vicious Circle sitting with Harpo Marx standing behind her. Yup, Harpo Marx who never spoke a word in those Marx Brothers movies was a member of that group of gadflies and sputter-snipes at The Round Table in The Algonquin Hotel. And to heap irony on irony Harpo’s brother Groucho, the undisputed champion of the put-down-insult found The Vicious Circle too vicious for his own taste and refused to join. The things you didn’t know about some people.
The Algonquin was weird and strange every time we ever stayed here…even before the makeover…and it still is. But I gotta tell ya’… when you can come downstairs and pour yourself a cup of hot tea with a dollop of milk any time of the day or night and people-watch to your heart’s content… it keeps me coming back.