At Christmastime, The Algonquin Hotel is as glittery and festive as the rest of the city, with its ceiling-high Christmas tree, champagne flutes, jolly revelers and decorative garlands. However, there’s a little reminder of summer etched onto those historic walls if you look close enough.
It all started back in August, when Matilda became the star of her very own children’s book, Matilda, The Algonquin Cat. The three-year project was announced at Matilda’s annual birthday party gala, where I met the author Leslie Martini.
What Eloise is to The Plaza, Matilda is to The Algonquin – except Matilda is a real-life glamour puss who currently lives on the property (and occasionally acts as the hotel concierge). The Algonquin has had a cat in residence since the 1930s, when a stray wandered through the hotel doors and made himself at home. The current famous feline, Matilda, has been living in the hotel since 2010. The book takes readers along for a day in Matilda’s life exploring the hotel. There are some nods to notable past guests – like the Texas real estate mogul who proposed to his girlfriend with the hotel’s famous $10,000 martini – and some odes to famous regulars – like Al Hirschfeld and John Barrymore.
The artist, Massimo Mongiardo, styled his illustrations based on the very first issue of the New Yorker. (The Algonquin was a favorite destination for the magazine’s writers.) This is the coloring book version, a favorite of adults even more so than kids. There’s also a hard cover and a soft cover book for sale at the hotel.
The books were some of the many prizes auctioned off at Matilda’s birthday, helping to raise over $10,000 for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.
This year marked the 10th anniversary of Matilda’s birthday gala. You might recognize some fur-miliar (sorry, had to) faces from last year. The theme this year was “Through the Decades,” an ode to some of The Algonquin’s most famous celebrity regulars and some notable children’s book characters.
There was Al Hirschfeld, Michael Feinstin, John Barrymore, Robin Hood and more.
Hamlet took the “not to be” to heart and had a nap, while Joe DiMaggio only wanted to be petted.
Some humans even got in on the act.
It coincided nicely with the Broadway revival of Cats, which is just around the block.
Leslie got her inspiration for the book from her childhood experiences at the Algonquin. Her mother used to take her to the hotel when they visited New York so they could see Matilda. She now has ragdoll cats of her own. The idea for the book came from her daughter, who commented once when her cat was being cranky that she must be mad that she’s not Matilda who gets to live in a hotel. For three years, the book was shuffled to different editors and publishers who insisted that Leslie create a different story arc so it would be more fantastical for children. She stayed true to her vision, portraying the whimsical (but true) days in Matilda’s already fantastical life, and it worked out perfectly.
In October, the illustrations went up on the walls. One of Leslie’s favorites shows the special bond between Matilda and Hadley (who is really Alice, the dedicated Chief Cat Officer of the Algonquin).
I like this one, because if you’ve ever lived with a cat this has absolutely happened to you at some point. I also love the illustration of Matilda consulting with the hotel chefs. They cook her special meals on holidays – and of course, Christmas is just around the corner.