Swanky hotel’s iconic cat is now the star of a children’s book
By Mackenzie Dawson September 17, 2016 | 11:06am
To know and love NYC’s Algonquin Hotel is to know and love its cat — and its long history of feline ownership.
It began in 1932, when a stray feline wandered in off the street and took up residence in the hotel. He was first named Rusty, until actor John Barrymore, a member of the hotel’s fabled Round Table group, suggested Hamlet would be a more dignified name (Barrymore knew his Hamlet, being considered one of the definitive Hamlets on the American stage).
From then on, it was official: The Algonquin poured martinis and housed cats. When the cat-in-residence was male, it was always named Hamlet; when female, it was Matilda, and the cat is always a ragdoll cat, a semi-longhair breed known for being friendly and “doglike.” (No one knows what the significance, if any, was for the name Matilda.)
A new children’s book, “Matilda, the Algonquin Cat” by Leslie Martini tells the history of the Algonquin through the famous feline. The current Matilda has been living at the hotel since 2010. She is the 11th Algonquin cat and the third Matilda. As is the current tradition of Algonquin cats, she is a rescue.
‘The cat ends up being a conduit to the history of all these people who came here.’
– author Leslie Martini
“I live in the Algonquin Hotel, which is in the center of New York City, which is in the center of the world, which means that I am in the center of it all,” she explains on the first page of the book, before taking readers on a tour of her daily duties and an overview of the hotel’s history and literary past.
There’s mention of her “assistant,” Hadley — a nod to real-life Alice de Almeida, the hotel’s “chief cat officer” and the woman in charge of Matilda’s social media, veterinary appointments and daily schedule, which involves many naps.
De Almeida also answers Matilda’s fan mail — the feline is big in Russia and Japan, and foreign guests often come bearing gifts for her.
Author Leslie Martini has been coming to the hotel since she was a little girl growing up in Pittsburgh. Her mother would take her for frequent visits to the city, and they would always stay at the Algonquin before going to see a Broadway show.
“My mother would stand there at the front desk and say, ‘Can you bring the cat out?’ ” Martini tells The Post. “I’d always enjoy that. As a kid, I wasn’t interested in the history of the Round Table.”
As an adult living in Manhattan, she came to realize the significance of the hotel and its history. In a city that is quick to bulldoze its past and turn it into condos, Martini appreciated how much the 114-year-old Algonquin seemed to care about its traditions. Especially its four-legged ones.
“[The book] is a tour of the hotel through the eyes of a cat,” says Martini. “The cat ends up being a conduit to the history of all these people who came here.”