Some hotels have a resident artist, others have a resident band. But how many hotels can boast of a resident cat…? Meet Matilda, the charming, gracious Ragdoll feline who holds court at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.
Opened in 1902, the Algonquin is the oldest operating hotel in New York City. Designed by Goldwin Starrett, the architect behind other New York buildings like the American Stock Exchange and the Everett Building, the Algonquin occupies a special place in New York history. The hotel’s Round Table restaurant is especially iconic, dating back to a time when literary greats like Franklin Adams, Marc Connelly, Edna Ferber and Dorothy Parker used to gather around a round table in the hotel to talk, exchange ideas and more.
The Algonquin’s inviting attitude toward people from the arts has been credited to the hotel’s first owner-manager, Frank Case, who envisioned the hotel as a center for New York’s burgeoning art scene. In fact, Case was so enamored with the writers and artists who gathered around the hotel’s Round Table that he used to ensure a daily luncheon for them. These group meetings that Case facilitated led to the creation of the now famous New Yorker magazine, which is, to this day, delivered free to all of the hotel’s guests.
But Case’s good-naturedness didn’t stop with his human guests. One night in the late 1930s, Case found himself with an unexpected visitor to the hotel—a stray cat. Case took the rugged, ginger feline in, named him Rusty and thus began the tradition of the hotel having a resident cat—the Algonquin Cat. The story then goes that actor John Barrymore renamed Rusty as Hamlet (probably because of Barrymore’s own starring role in the Shakespearean play at that time), and since then, all the male Algonquin cats have been called Hamlet.
As for the female Algonquin cats, they have all been named Matilda—the reason for that name, however, has been lost in time. The Matilda I was meeting was the hotel’s third Matilda, which, like all but one of the previous Algonquin cats, had been adopted from an animal shelter. I was introduced to Matilda by Alice de Almeida, who is the hotel’s executive assistant as well as its “Chief Cat Officer.” De Almeida, a cheery New Yorker with four cats of her own, told me that she didn’t think taking care of Matilda was a chore. “I look out for her, she looks out for me,” she said.
When I met Matilda, she was friendly and she even said meow, but like all other celebrities of her ilk, she didn’t seem too pleased with my paparazzo-like antics with the camera, and seemed eager to get back to doing her own thing. Maybe that explains her resemblance to Grumpy Cat aka Tardar Sauce in these pictures—but rest assured that Matilda is an absolutely amiable feline, who, De Almeida says, sometimes even “smiles.” “People love her,” De Almeida said. “She gets a lot of attention.”
De Almeida told me that Matilda has a busy daily schedule—besides lounging around and greeting the hotel’s guests, Matilda spends a lot of time connecting with her fans and friends online. Besides having an active presence on Facebook and Twitter, Matilda also takes time to reply to all the people who email her. Of course, as the CCO, De Almeida assists Matilda with her online duties. “You see, cats have no thumbs, so I have to hit the space bar for her,” she explained. “So that’s my job. She sits, she does her email, and then she tells me when to just hit the space bar.”
Looking at Matilda, it is hard to believe that she was once an abandoned cat. But thanks to Frank Case’s benevolence to a cat all those years ago, Matilda today enjoys a second lease of life as the “Algonqueen.” “She’s pretty lucky,” De Almeida said. “But we’re lucky to have her too.”
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