October 13, 2019

100 Years Since the Algonquin Round Table

“This year is the 100th anniversary of the first meeting of the Algonquin Round Table, one of the 20th century’s most famous literary gatherings. The story has become a part of New York City lore: In June 1919, a group of writers and critics gathered at the Algonquin Hotel, at 59 West 44th Street in Midtown Manhattan, to welcome the critic Alexander Woollcott home from the war. What started as an impromptu lunch (at two square tables pushed together; the round table came a year later) proved to be such delicious fun that the group returned at 1 p.m., and practically every day thereafter, inviting new lunch companions, until it dissolved in the early 1930s.

The wattage of ribaldry and verbal dexterity around the table was enough to electrify all of Manhattan. Regular members of what many called the “vicious circle” included the humorist and editor Robert Benchley, the sportswriter Heywood Broun, the columnist Franklin P. Adams, the producer Brock Pemberton and the screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. The playwrights George S. Kaufman and Robert E. Sherwood were there. Edna Ferber, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and short story author, regularly sat near Harold Ross, the editor and a co-founder of The New Yorker, as did the “Guinevere of the Round Table,” Dorothy Parker.

With Prohibition descending, the Round Table drank black coffee (with an occasional splash of moonshine from a member’s hip flask), dined on popovers and scrambled eggs, played charades and word games, inhaled cigarette smoke, exhaled sardonic barbs and purred in delight when their wit outmaneuvered their neighbor’s. It is fabled to have been a “10-year lunch” of fabulous, if also ferocious, fun.”

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