Never mind that the Algonquin Hotel on 44th Street in New York City puts the New Yorker rather than TV Guide on its dressers, has electronic locks on its doors, provides a candle in every medicine chest, sells the International Herald Tribune on its newstand, allows the house cat Hamlet free roam of its 12 floors, dishes up outrageously crispy French fries for room calls, serves cocktails elegantly in its oak-paneled lobby, still has rooms for $60 a night and utilizes mostly Italian bellmen who tend to remember the names of patrons and hardly blink at all when awakened by happy-go-lucky guests ringing the brass night bell at 5 in the morning to get back in.
The real reason anyone stays or drinks or eats at the Algonquin is to gaze at the assembled literati who have been frequenting the place ever since Harold Ross and James Thurber and Dorothy Parker began hosting their celebrated writers' luncheons at the round table in the Oak Room. On most weekdays, one can generally find New Yorker editor William Shawn eating lunch alone -- almost always orange juice, toast and coffee.
Once an aspiring young reporter followed a trench-coated J.D. Salinger back to the Algonquin from the Gotham Book Mart on 47th Street, where the reclusive author had spent over an hour browsing through used travel books. Salinger sat down in the lobby and ordered a gin and tonic. Before the waiter returned, the reporter approached Salinger, introduced himself and broached the unmentionable topic interview.
Salinger excused himself and bolted out the front entrance, past the brown derbyed doorman directly into a cab.
When the waiter returned, he simply glanced at the empty chair, shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the service bar in the main dining room with a sweaty highball glass in his right hand.
In this timeless world of well-worn rugs and thick terry-cloth towels, nothing is too strange to be tolerantly absorbed.