Tired in Times Square: A Review of The Algonquin Hotel in New York City
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To The Point
Despite its current, thoroughly brand-swathed name, The Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection, is one of Gotham’s most legendary historic hotels. Pros: central location, decent nightly rates, attentive staff. Cons: Rooms need to be redecorated, expensive dining.
Although I lived in New York City for a few years and have been visiting it all my life, I never got the chance to stay at one of the city’s most storied hotels, The Algonquin, which opened in 1902. The hotel had its heyday about two decades later, when it played host to the literary luminaries called the Algonquin Round Table. Among the minds who gathered daily to exchange quips were Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and Robert E. Sherwood. A group of them even went on to found The New Yorker, which is why you’ll see the covers of famous issues framed throughout the hotel.
An early-January visit to New York City proved the perfect opportunity to visit this august hotel and see how it’s been keeping up with the times as part of Marriott.
I originally booked a room with one queen bed for $224 per night. However, with taxes and a destination fee, the total came to $289.23. This destination fee was a new development from the past couple of years, akin to a resort fee. Hotels across the city have been adding it to their folios, though the inclusions vary from property to property. At The Algonquin, the $29 fee (it was $25 plus tax) included: a $30 daily food-and-beverage credit to be used anywhere in the hotel; a daily gym pass; an official Grand Central self-guided audio tour for up to two guests; and a Big Bus City Tour ticket.
To be honest, I thought this was rather annoying and would have preferred that the room rate on the Marriott site reflect the total including the destination fee rather than shocking me with a jump of over $65 on the final booking page.
Alternatively, I could have made an award booking for 50,000 points for the night, since this was a Category 6 property. But I decided just to pay instead. As a Marriott Gold elite, I earned 12.5x points per dollar on the paid stay.
I normally would have put the charge on my Chase Sapphire Reserve to earn 3x points per dollar on the travel purchase. Because I was traveling for business, though, I decided to use my Chase Ink Business Preferred, since that card also earns 3x points per dollar on travel for the first $150,000 of annual spend.
The hotel, with 156 rooms and 25 suites, was on West 44th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, near Times Square. I flew into Newark (EWR), landing around 4:15pm, and caught a New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station for $12.25.
I could walk from Penn Station to the hotel in about 10 to 15 minutes or catch the 1, 2 or 3 train up to Times Square and walk a couple blocks from there. I was in a hurry, so I caught a taxi, and it ended up taking just five minutes.
I arrived at the same time as a few other travelers, so there was a line by the time I walked into the lobby. The bellmen on duty at the door were polite and helpful, though, opening the door for everyone and taking luggage in.
I ended up waiting for about 10 minutes to get checked in because the three guests before me asked a lot of questions, and then a fourth guest cut into the line to get a new keycard, since he’d left his in his room.
While that was going on, I took a moment to look around the lobby, which was the lounge portion of the hotel’s main restaurant, the Round Table.
It had oak-paneled walls, ornate rugs and your usual assortment of vaguely matching armchairs and sofas arranged around tables.
There was a piano to one side, which was used for live entertainment on Thursdays from 6 to 9pm.
Though I was annoyed by the wait, and the check-in agents were clearly stressed, the one who eventually helped me was friendly and apologetic about the wait. She also informed me that she’d been able to upgrade me to a room with a king bed, so that got me in a better mood quickly. Looking back at room rates for the night of my stay, the room she upgraded me to would have cost $55 more than the rate I paid, so that was nice bonus. She then told me about the hotel’s bar and restaurant, let me know where the gym was and sent me over to the elevator.
On the way, I passed an interesting display case with hotel mementos and books by famous authors who had stayed there. You could download free ebooks.
Now for another quibble: There were just two elevators, and they took … forever. OK, not forever, but I literally stood waiting for one of them to come back to the lobby for four minutes. I timed it. By the time it did, I was waiting with seven other guests, and we all crammed into the elevator together. Since we were all getting off at different floors, the ride up was also rather slow, and I was by myself by the time I reached the 10th floor, where my room was.
The hallway was narrow but bright, with a staircase across from the elevators. Each room’s door had a quote by a member of the Round Table, like this one from Dorothy Parker.
There was no foyer or entry hall in my room. Instead, I just stepped right into the main bedroom. The décor was classic, and I liked the original building features like the recessed window in my room and the bed headboard with a black-and-white print of a city street.
The last redecoration of the hotel’s accommodations was in 2012, so the room looked old and tired.
Part of that was due to the fact that there was little natural light — blame it on the building’s original construction. But part of it was due to the dark fabrics and woods used in the bland furnishings.
Another ill-conceived feature in this respect was the climate system. There was just a single vent embedded in the window frame. Not only did this look like something that had been taken from your average motel room, but it also ruined the look of the window. The curtains were also hideous and hard to pull up and down. It would have been so easy to create stylish, period-appropriate grates that would have added to the ambience rather than destroy it.
The view out my window also didn’t help. It was just of the fire escape and the next building.
I couldn’t help feeling that, given the right treatment, the rooms here could have both paid homage to the hotel’s iconic past and made it feel more contemporary. On the plus side, the closet was large: narrow but very deep, with plenty of room for suitcases.
Next to that was a narrow desk with a hanging mirror on the wall and a smaller vanity mirror.
There were several plugs there, though both nightstands also had sockets, which was convenient.
On the wall across from the bed was an LCD television. Underneath was a credenza with a refrigerator but no minibar, which I thought was odd for a hotel at this price point.
The bathroom was back by the front door, and was minuscule, even by New York City standards.
It contained a single sink with a small glass shelf and a backlit mirror.
Off to one side was the toilet, wedged into the corner.
And then there was the shower, which had barely enough room to turn around in, though the mosaic tiling was pretty.
I did, however, really like the Beekman 1802 bath products, including a bar of soap made from goat milk.
The Wi-Fi worked really well.
There were things I liked about the room and things that I thought the hotel just got wrong. On the positive side, it was spacious and the amenities were nice. However, the bathroom was just plain tiny, the décor felt dark and worn-out, and the historic elements of the architecture were not incorporated in any meaningful way.
Food and Beverage
The hotel’s main restaurant was called Round Table, after the circle of famous writers who used to meet here. It was at the back of the lobby level, though you could also order the menu out in the main lobby lounge.
There was a table at the back of the dining room that was, in fact, a round table, with a painting of the Algonquin Round Table members assembled for lunch.
The lunch and dinner menus were a roll call of classic American dishes like shrimp cocktail, French onion soup, Caesar salad, steaks, grilled chicken and pan-seared salmon. Good for a meal with business colleagues, but not terribly interesting if you were looking for a foodie experience. The prices for entrees ranged from $27 to $52.
The cocktail list included The Dorothy Parker, with NY Distilling Co. Dorothy Parker Gin, St. Germain, fresh lemon, honey and basil; and The Algonquin, with Maker’s Mark, dry vermouth and fresh pineapple juice.
I wandered down here for breakfast the morning of my stay, hoping to put my destination-fee food credit to use. The continental breakfast was $24, and other options like eggs Benedict were priced higher. I opted for a bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and fixings, which cost $25. Adding in the coffee I ordered, which was $9 for a pot, my breakfast came to $35.93, so I was just over the credit by a few dollars.
The service was friendly and quick, and the food was good, though extremely overpriced.
I did not have a chance to visit the hotel’s Blue Bar, next door to the lobby. It originally opened in 1933. When the hotel closed The Oak Room in 2012, Blue Bar and Round Table were both expanded using part of that space.
While the room did have a certain Art Deco vibe, it looked more like your average Midtown cocktail lounge these days, with bright blue lighting. The beverage list included the same specialties as Round Table, as well as classics like the French 75 and Moscow Mule.
Other than that, the only amenities to note were a small work center with two desktop computers set in a dark corner and the little fitness center, which had some old weight machines and four cardio machines. Plus a black-stone fireplace, because, well, this was The Algonquin.
The equipment was not new, but it was serviceable, and I had the gym all to myself when I worked out the morning of my stay.
As I mentioned, the staff members I interacted with, from the doormen, to the front desk and at the restaurant, were all polite and fast, if not exactly warm. But everyone was helpful and on hand if I needed anything or had questions.
The one element cat lovers might really love about the hotel is that there is always a resident feline who is given the run of the place. During my stay, it was a handsome male cat named Hamlet, who made a cameo at the front desk while I was checking out … before promptly curling up underneath the desk by one of the computers.
I was excited at the chance to check out one of New York City’s most famous hotels. The winter rates were more than reasonable for New York, its location near Times Square made it supremely convenient, and the historic spaces were fun to explore. However, The Algonquin is starting to look its age, and its current incarnation seems more like a characterless take on a midlevel business hotel instead of the resplendent grande dame it could be.
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