A few weeks ago, while the Algonquin was still closed for renovations, we passed by the hotel. The front door was open, so we walked in.
The lobby was a construction site. But looking beyond the drop cloths and ladders we saw what we’d always seen – dark wood-paneled walls, stoic wood columns and hand-painted sconces straight out of the Edwardian era. As we scampered out, a workman yelling that we didn’t belong there, we smiled. It was clear the Algonquin hadn’t gone minimal or modern or been reimagined by Philippe Starck. Maybe they’d even keep the cat.
The hotel reopened in late May – renovations will wrap by June 30 – and this week we returned to see the almost-finished product.
Our first thought: it looked the same, only different, like a blurry photo that comes into focus. Everything appeared cleaner and sharper. While nostalgia purists may quibble about details – the Chinoiserie wallpaper above the wood paneling is history – the lobby still feels like a souped up Edwardian sitting room with a buzzy All About Eve vibe.
True, they’ve dialed back the exuberance. Designer Alexandra Champalimaud’s artfully mismatched furniture in zingy silk stripes and prints from 2009 is gone, replaced by a clubby, toned down mix of chairs in gray and black leathers, punctuated by pillows in tomato red or tweed. But we love the crystal sconces that look like flapper headpieces with veils of hanging beads. They made us think of the Round Table.
And lunch. We headed to the room in the back of the lobby. A large painting of the fabled Vicious Circle – Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and the gang of writers, wags and wits who hung out here in the 20s – still anchors the room (we watched several guests of a certain age pay homage while we ate).
The renovated surroundings looked crisp, clean and, alas, less quirky. The big difference is the seating arrangement. Leather banquettes hug the walls (thumbs up). But the high-back dining chairs are uniform, upholstered in some sort of pale gold vinyl. They looked like they were chosen by the hotel accountant instead of the decorator. (We’ll grudgingly allow that they’re comfortable.)
The lunch menu presented a nicely edited, organic-inflected selection of club food–salmon, pastas, sandwiches, salads. We liked the idea behind the mix-and-match entrée salads (you choose a base salad and a topper, like grilled chicken, seared tuna or filet mignon). Our arugula and balsamic vinaigrette salad crowned with twin crabcakes was satisfying, filling, and at $28, not cheap (nothing on the menus is; coffee, brewed by Starbucks, costs $7). But the Algonquin food was always wildly overpriced and too often a disappointment. They’ve successfully addressed one side of the equation.
Best of all the servers, including some from before the hotel closed, are still friendly/rude (the service equivalent of jolie/laide). Some things shouldn’t change. All that was missing was Matilda, the hotel cat who was famously banned from the lobby and all areas serving food last year by a New York health department edict. Our server said she usually hangs out near the front desk (an electronic “fence” prevents her from swanning around verboten areas).
We didn’t see her, so we asked about her before we left. “She’s asleep right here,” the front desk attendant said, pointing to an area behind the towering desk that we couldn’t see. We’ll take the desk attendant’s word. And we’ll be back.