Overthinking the Algonquin

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Dorothy Parker Is Long Gone

Looking for literary ghosts at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

Looking for literary ghosts at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

I sit down at the Round Table restaurant in the Algonquin Hotel in New York City with no one but long-dead writer and wit Dorothy Parker spinning through my head. Who wouldn’t admire what might have been the original tough woman, a hard-living writer who would blow past deadlines, drink during Prohibition, and wouldn’t, or couldn’t, write until it was too late, almost too late?

I sit down at the Round Table restaurant in the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan and my head fills with Dorothy Parker snark, she of the men-don’t-make-passes-at-girls-who-wear-glasses snottiness, the one with the sharp tongue denigrating champagne blondes of the assisted sort, the chick writer in a world of men. Parker was the one who ate with those literary men, the one who slept with some of them, the one who worked as a writer first when women didn’t even have the vote, when women were in no way equal to men.

I sit down at the Round Table restaurant in the Algonquin Hotel thinking that as a young woman, I loved Dorothy Parker and I hated Dorothy Parker. She got to go to lunch during an era when people went to lunch, in hotels, on breaks from their workdays. She made bitchiness fun and glam. Dare anyone say that she was mean? Had I been alive then to meet her, I have no doubt she would have been dismissive. But isn’t that always how the wittiest person at the cocktail party is?

Still, she is aspirational. Dorothy Parker was making it as a writer, got a dream job as a theater critic, was sharp-tongued and quick on her feet, could hold her own with the literary boys of the day. Dorothy Parker was canned by Vanity Fair for writing reviews that were perhaps a bit too truthful (with concomitant negative effects on Broadway ticket sales) back when critics were still critical.

One cannot help but think about Dorothy Parker in the dining room at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

One cannot help but think about Dorothy Parker in the dining room at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Photo credit: M. Ciavardini

How could a newer generation of women not like her? Dorothy Parker could write and drink and talk and play. She was the broad in the vicious circle, the woman writer of the writing writers who lunched at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s and early 1930s. She got to write for Vanity Fair, for the newly born New Yorker, for the film industry. She got to write for a living without venturing toward a part-time job as a coffee barista. She could make big mistakes. She also had a fascination with too many cocktails, with suicide, with men who were unavailable at least for more periods of time than not.

I sit down at the Round Table at the Algonquin hotel wondering what food was like in the 1920s and how it was prepared, wondering how clean the place was, wondering what those writers who lunched thought about the state of the world after that world war, after the revolution in Russia, after the passage of Prohibition in the United States, after a touch of anarchy throughout the world from the early 1900s, after a bit of their own personal flirtations with communism and activism.

I sit down at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel curious about Dorothy Parker’s end, about how she left all her money to Martin Luther King and then to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

I sit down at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel and think there is less of Dorothy Parker here today than there is of Ernest Hemingway at the Hemingway house in Key West, Fla.

I sit down at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel thinking about literary tourism, and the ghosts of long-dead writers and the politics of long dead writers and the messed-up love lives of long-dead writers and of the odd choices for spouses of long-dead writers.

I sit down at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel and I order myself a drink.

Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44 Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, New York City, 10036

—Lori Tripoli

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