02 February 2012

The Algonquin's Oak Room Is Dead

For my money, the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel was one of the most sophisticated spaces in all of New York. I felt like an absolute New Yorker there wherever I slipped behind a white-tableclothed table, my back to the paneled wall, tucked into my Martini and waited for the show to begin. No one every misbehaved in that room, and everyone dressed to the nines. Grace, politeness and ebullience reigned effortlessly. 

I saw many great artists there. Diana Krall, long before she became famous and musically uninteresting and Mrs. Elvis Costello. The late, lamented chanteuse Mary Cleere Haran. Married jazz cats Jessica Molaskey and John Pizzarelli. Once saw Skitch Henderson in the audience.

My chances of catching further legends are gone. The New York Times reports that "After a 32-year run the Oak Room, the fabled supper club and cabaret at the Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street in Manhattan, will no longer operate when the hotel reopens in May after an extensive renovation, the Algonquin’s general manager, Gary J. Budge, announced on Thursday. He cited declining audiences in spite of 'top-notch performers.'" Gary J. Budge. What a name. Sounds like the husband of the New Yorker's famed Old Lady from Dubuque (a creation of New Yorker Harold Ross, who used to hang at the Algonquin).

Even though it was renovated just four years ago, the Algonquin has been undergoing another  extensive renovation since the start of 2012. A year or so ago, the hotel joined the Marriott network's "Autograph Collection." We're to expect "some exciting changes to our guest rooms and lobby." If the closing of the Oak Room is one of those exciting changes, I dread to discover what they're doing with the rest of the lobby.  

The Oak Room began as the Oak Room Supper Club in the 1930s. It closed down when WWII broke out. It didn't reopen until 1980.


Ed said...

Quite honestly, though of course I've read about the prewar history of the Algonquin, I had always assumed that the hotel had closed a long time ago. I was surprised to walk past occasionally a functioning hotel called the "Algonquin", but thought that someone was just exploiting the name and the connection with the old, famous, hotel was tenuous.

upstatejohnnygee said...

Ah, some more bad news to take the sweet edge off the coming weekend. I hope that the interior will remain intact as the former Oak Room is made safe for tourists who, thanks in no small part to the carnival atmosphere of Times Square, have come to regard NYC as a funhouse of free visual and aural stimulation, like visitors at a zoo. And I'd guess that even the city's current generation of overpaid young lawyers and bond traders would, if asked, guess that "the Algonquin" was a resort in the Adirondacks. I'm hoping the interior will be kept intact because one day the cultural climate will shift again and either the suits at corporate HQ will see $$ in a restored Oak Room or they'll rent the place to some mad or visionary (or both) saloonkeeper who'll bring it back.

upstate johnny g said...

Hey Brooks,
Just had a wild idea.....maybe Bill's Gay Nineties should pick up the slack left by the Oak Room. Dunno how many the Oak could seat, but Cafe Carlyle does 70 for dinner and 90 for performances and Bill's I think can handle up to 100....so it could work maybe. It would have to be upstairs....I'm thinking the second floor where there's that big dining room and the walls are already covered floor to ceiling with posters and playbills from B-way in the teens and twenties. What better place to showcase the American songbook than one of New York's original speakeasies? Whaddya think?

Brooks of Sheffield said...

Nice idea, Johnny G. But what I hear in the wind about Bill's Gay Nineties is not encouraging. Let's hope it is not true.

Enid Futterman said...

There is a petition to save the Oak Room at http://www.change.org/petitions/algonquin-hotel-dont-close-the-oak-room. It has well more than 3000 signatures now, including cabaret, jazz, theater, film and media people Lynn Ahrens, Karen Akers, Karrin Allyson, Christine Andreas, Laura Benanti, Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Susan Birkenhead, Harolyn Blackwell, Judy Blazer, RO Blechman, Francesca Blumenthal, Anne Bobby, Stephen Bogardus, Peter Bogdanovich, Philip Bosco, Jacob Brackman, John Breglio, DeeDee Bridgewater, Blair Brown, Barbara Brussell, John Bucchino, Betty Buckley, Julie Budd, Carol Burnett, Ann Hampton Callaway, Judy Carmichael, Craig Carnelia, Jim Caruso, Marge Champion, Douglas Cohen, Tom Conti, John Cunningham, Simon Curtis, Jason Danieley, Jamie deRoy, Mindi Dickstein, Digby Diehl, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Melinda Doolittle, Stanley Dorfman, Robert Downey, Nancy Dussault, Morgan Fairchild, Michael Feinstein, Tovah Feldshuh, William Finn, Frances Fisher, Ellen Fitzhugh, Stephen Flaherty, Nancy Ford, Lauren Fox, Will Friedwald, Peter Gallagher, Anita Gillette, Julie Gold, Ricky Ian Gordon, Jason Graae, Amanda Green, Rinne Groff, Erik Hagensen, Carol Hall, Jeff Harnar, Magee Hickey, Warren Hoge, George S. Irving, Henry Jaglom, Morgan Jenness, John Kander, Lainie Kazan, Barnet Kellman, David Kenney, Skip Kennon, Sally Kirkland, Howard Kissel, Julius LaRosa, Richard Lewis, Maude Maggart, Melissa Manchester, Andrea Marcovicci, Deborah Margolin, Claire Martin, Karen Mason, Amanda McBroom, Jane Monheit, Donna Murphy, Philip Namanworth, Marni Nixon, Michael Nouri, Mary Bracken Phillips, David Hyde Pierce, John Pizzarelli, Faith Popcorn, Sid Ramin, Teri Ralston, Lisa Robinson, Mary Rodgers, Steve Ross, Jonathan Schwartz, Jennifer Sheehan, Sally Bedell Smitj, Donald Smith, John David Souther, Sandy Stewart, Charles Strouse, Stacy Sullivan, Tierney Sutton, Mary Testa, Tony Walton, Jimmy Webb, and Paula West, Simon Winchester, Deborah Grace Winer, and William Wolf. Please sign!