Travelers missing their kitties and looking for their fix will find exactly what they need at New York City’s historic Algonquin Hotel. The hotel opened in 1902 and is well known for hosting celebrated writers, actors, and critics. The most notable was the famed Algonquin Round Table, a group that met at the hotel for lunch every day for nearly a decade.
The Algonquin is also famous for its resident kitties. According to hotel lore, the first Algonquin cat was a stray named Rusty, who wandered into the lobby in the mid-1930s. Frank Case, the hotel owner, decided to adopt Rusty, and the tradition was born.
The only thing that didn’t stick: The cat’s name.
"Rumor has it that Rusty’s name was changed to Hamlet, as it was more dignified," says Alice de Almeida, executive assistant at the Algonquin. "John Barrymore, a frequent guest, was playing Hamlet on Broadway."
Since then, 10 cats have graced the Algonquin lobby with their presence — seven males, all named Hamlet, and three females, all named Matilda. Whether Hamlet or Matilda, the cats are all pampered — allegedly, the first Algonquin cat drank milk out of a champagne glass, and there’s a cat-sized chaise lounge in the lobby. Matilda I wore a jeweled collar, and she occasionally swiped food from guests’ plates.
The current Algonquin cat is the slightly less-spoiled Matilda III, a lovely Ragdoll who came to the hotel in Dec. 2010 after being abandoned in a box outside the North Shore Animal League in Port Washington, New York. (Follow her on Facebook here.) All but one of the Algonquin cats have been rescues, and they have a retirement plan; Matilda III took over when Matilda II moved to a staff member’s home in 2010 at the age of 15.
Matilda’s predecessors had the run of the hotel, but that changed in 2011 due to a directive from the New York City Department of Health, which required Matilda to remain in areas of the hotel where food is not prepared or served. Matilda never went in the kitchen, but according to the rule she should be banished from the lobby lounge as well. The rule sparked numerous discussions, including whether something that has not caused problems in more than 80 years really necessitated a change. JaneA Kelley wrote about the issue for Catster, supporting Matilda at a time when it seemed the cat may be evicted from the hotel altogether.
Fortunately Matilda has remained at the Algonquin, albeit with slightly smaller living quarters. Despite her restricted ability to roam, Matilda still greets guests at the front desk and spends time lounging on her favorite bell cart, where she watches her friends come and go and poses for photo ops with guests who sometimes come from very far away just to see her. She takes her job as "DirectFURR of Guest Relations" very seriously — but she still took a few moments to chat with Catster about her prestigious position.
"Napping has to be the best part, especially when being adored from afar," Matilda says, via de Almeida. "After all, who else gets paid to nap on the job? The guests are very excited to meet me, and I try my best to make everyone smile."
Matilda definitely brings the smiles every summer when the Algonquin hosts its annual Cat Fashion Show ÔÇô- well, the human spectators are happy, at least. For years, the event has given cat-costume enthusiasts the chance to show off their style. The cats are adorable, decked out as everything from a daisy to Raggedy Ann to a wizard to a ballerina. In typical cat fashion, they don’t look particularly thrilled about, well, any of it — particularly the part about walking down the cat-sized runway. But the event is hilarious, and it’s for a good cause — each year a portion of the proceeds go to animal shelters in the area.
"I love raising money for deserving animal shelters, and I love not having to wear a costume myself!" Matilda says.
Like many cats — including my calico girl, Phoenix, who is currently curling up on the corner of the bed in preparation for her afternoon shift — the illustrious Ragdoll regularly sleeps on the job. This, of course, is part of her job description, but in 2014 her New Year’s resolution is perhaps to nap a bit less. Or maybe not — the cat does need her beauty sleep. In any case, whether working in the home or a hotel, Matilda feels all cats have an important job.
"Everyone should have a cat," she says. "Cats are like potato chips — you can’t have just one. All cats have jobs ÔÇô- be it to nap on someone’s lap or catch a mouse, etc. Just some of us get paid more!"
If you’re in Times Square this year, be sure to stop in and snap a selfie with Matilda.
"It is my honor to be an Algonquin cat, and I hope to pass the position down for many, many more generations," she says. "People also need to remember that shelter animals make great pets — young and old alike. They all deserve a FURever home."
Check out some cuteness with Catster:
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About Angela: This not-crazy-at-all cat lady loves to lint-roll her favorite dress and go out dancing. She also frequents the gym, the vegan coffee joint, and the warm patch of sunlight on the living room floor. She enjoys a good cat rescue story about kindness and decency overcoming the odds, and she’s an enthusiastic recipient of headbutts and purrs from her two cats, Bubba Lee Kinsey and Phoenix.