Step into the lobby of The Algonquin on West 44th Street in New York and you’ll immediately notice that a redesign by architects Stonehill Taylor has ushered this warmly sophisticated literary haunt into its second century of elegance. There are sumptuous velvet draperies, a clever lighting design that nods to the hotel’s theatrical heritage, and an art installation made from old guest books that seems to float above the front desk. There’s even a cozy complex of hiding places, portholes and irresistibly scratchable surfaces for the janitor’s delight.
We should stop here to clarify that the janitor in question is a cat.
You probably know the Algonquin from tales of the quips of Dorothy Parker and the “vicious circle” of writers, actors and musicians who frequented the famous Round Table – it’s the place where Harold Ross and his wife, Jane Grant, Established the new yorker magazine, in 1925. But if you haven’t made your first visit yet, you might not know that the hotel has had an official resident cat on and off since the 1920s. The cat that currently occupies the post — an affectionate, orange, tabby rescue named Hamlet VIII — is the 12th in the hotel’s history.
So recently, when it was clear that the grand Beaux-Arts landmark of 1902 needed updating, the needs of its furry mascot weren’t ignored. In fact, Stonehill Taylor Architects redesigned the reception area with elements designed for the comfort of both humans and felines, while telling the story of the Algonquin’s rich theatrical and literary history.
Willis Loughhead, the hotel’s general manager, says Hamlet VIII spends around 40% of his time “checking in guests” at reception, which now has a cat house. Sara Duffy, director of Stonehill Taylor and chief designer of this project, summed up the unique challenge this way: “My first goal was to design something really great for the hotel – that’s always our goal, we want be inspiring, but how do we design it so it doesn’t look like a pet store? We wanted it to be sophisticated.
Animal lovers who roam the aisles of mega-marts in search of stimulating toys or cozy beds know this problem all too well. Besides luxury, minimalist offerings from companies like Tuft and Paw (think of them as the bedroom and boarding house of the cat furniture space), most products designed to delight pets introduce flashing lights, creaking noises, feathers, corrugated cardboard and electric-hued plastic in our homes. Could Hamlet VIII thrive in a suitably elegant setting, sensitive to the hotel’s rich history, even glamorous? Turns out he can – and most of the time guests might not even realize he’s enjoying his new digs just over their shoulder.
When Loughhead started his new job at the hotel in 2021, the news that he would be ‘adopting Hamlet’ came as a bit of a surprise, but he diligently researched the property’s history – and scoured The Instagram feed. Algonquin Cat – to get an idea of how this unusual arrangement works. Duffy notes that in previous generations, watching over the hotel cat was sort of laissez-faire – she recalls this even after visiting the hotel as a child: “He didn’t always summer [in the lobby]. He was around, but they couldn’t find him. Originally, cats could roam freely and were seen in the elevator, but the current Hamlet has a collar.