It is believed that writer and wit Dorothy Parker dubbed the place "the Gonk."
The Algonquin Hotel opened its doors in 1902, in one of New York's most fashionable areas. Nearby were the two most celebrated restaurants of the time — Sherry's and Delmonico's — and five of the city's most prestigious clubs. Soon the Hippodrome, home to the Ziegfeld Follies, opened across the street, followed by a group of theatres.
Legendary Algonquin manager (1907) and owner (1927) Frank Case enjoyed the company of actors and writers, and he was instrumental in positioning the hotel at the center of New York's literary and theatrical life. Mr. Case attracted personalities like Booth Tarkington, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., John Barrymore and H.L. Mencken, who called the Algonquin "the most comfortable hotel in America." The hotel also welcomed female guests from the beginning, among them Gertrude Stein, Marian Anderson, Simone de Beauvoir, Eudora Welty and Helen Hayes. William Faulkner drafted his Nobel Prize acceptance speech at the Algonquin in 1950.
The Algonquin Round Table set the standard for literary style and wit in its era. For one glorious decade beginning in 1919, the Round Table was the scene of scintillating daily lunch meetings by a group of literary legends, which included Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and Robert Benchley.
After World War I, Vanity Fair writers and Algonquin regulars Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and Robert E. Sherwood began lunching at the Algonquin. In 1919 they gathered in the Rose Room with some literary friends to welcome back ascerbic critic Alexander Woollcott from his service as a war correspondent. The lunch was intended as a put-down of Woollcott's pretensions (he had the annoying habit of beginning stories with, "From my seat in the theatre of warâ€¦"), but it proved so enjoyable that someone suggested it become a daily event. This led to the daily exchange of ideas, opinions and often-savage wit that has enriched the world's literary life and its anecdote collections as well. George S. Kaufman, Heywood Broun and Edna Ferber were also in this august assembly, which strongly influenced writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway.
Though society columns referred to them as the Algonquin Round Table, they called themselves the Vicious Circle. "By force of character," observed drama critic Brooks Atkinson, "they changed the nature of American comedy and established the tastes of a new period in the arts and theatre."
23 March 1924, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. E6:
Heywood Broun, critic, novelist, and the white headed boy of Broadway, tore himself away from the Round Table at the Algonquin this week, undertook a perilous journey westward, and penetrated the remote fastnesses of Evanston
20 November 1925, Danville (VA) Bee, pg. 3, col. 1:
"Then our paths crossed right in the stronghold of the Sophisticates - at the Round Table at the Algonquin Hotel where the New York columnists and wita gather daily to laugh at the Rabbits. Alexander Woollcott had brought Johnny Weaver to luncheon there, and he sat him right beside me."
8 July 1928, Zanesville (OH) Signal, section two, pg. 11, col. 4:
And the famous Algonquin Round Table crowd of wits and half-wits figures in the flesh and the fresh in Anita Loos' new book, "But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes."
9 November 1982, Washington Post, pg. D3:
It is doubtful, even in the halcyon days of the Round Table qt the nearby Algonquin Hotel (the "Gonk"), that poetry and dramatic allusion would have filled the air of a Manhattan speakeasy, or that the untutored owner and his imported French wife would call their establishment the Club Circe.