The Algonquin Undergoes Changes at the Top but Management Wisely Decides to Retain Its Most Loyal and Beloved Employee, Matilda
"She stays, of course! She is what makes us unique and signature enough to make the Autograph Collection. Matilda is imperative!"
-- Marissa Mastellone of the Algonquin
In an age characterized by mergers and acquisitions, unchecked immigration, outsourcing, and technological innovation, job security is pretty much a thing of the past. Consequently, management often gives the gate to employees without so much as a second thought.
With that being the Zeitgeist, it is refreshing to see that a loyal, long-term employee of the world famous Algonquin Hotel on West 44th Street in Manhattan has been able to hold on to her job amidst all the upheaval. Although if the truth be told, the hours are backbreaking, as in twenty-four-seven, three-hundred-sixty-five, and the remuneration consists of only room, board, and medical care.
Her name is Matilda and she is the hotel's fifteen-year-old mascot, de facto concierge, and head mouser. A Ragdoll by descent, she can be found most of the time holding court on her very own miniature chaise longue just inside the front portal on the left.
At other times she can be found perched behind the computer on the front desk busily selling rooms all the while keeping an eye trained on the mouse. When she is not busy doing that, she can be found supervising the bellhops as they scurry about with guests' luggage. (See photos of her above and below.)
She is the latest in a long line of cats who have called the hotel home ever since former owner Frank Case took in off the street a down-at-the-heel stray named Hamlet way back in the 1930s and subsequently treated him to some much appreciated milk in a champagne glass. In keeping with that compassionate and venerable tradition, all of the hotel's female cats have been named Matilda whereas all the males are dubbed Hamlet.
When HEI Hotels and Resorts of Norwalk, Connecticut, sold part of the Algonquin to Marriott last summer concern was voiced about Matilda's future. In particular, since cats are as scarce as hens' teeth on its properties, it was feared that the bean counters at Marriott would begrudge Matilda her daily ration of fish and milk.
After all, Marriott has done for innkeeping what McDonald's earlier did for restaurateuring. For example, guests attending business meetings and receptions at the Marriott Marquis around the corner are routinely shown to bowls of stale, picked-over potato chips and trays of watered-down sodas when they had been expecting something a little more upscale and perhaps even a smidgen of caviar and a drop or two of Don Pérignon.
In the case of Matilda, however, the suits at the Marriott evidently possess enough bon sens to realize that she is a valuable jewel in the crown of their financial empire. "She stays, of course!" the Algonquin's Marissa Mastellone caroled to The New York Observer on September 20th. (See "Matilda the Cat's Position Secure at the Algonquin, New Partnership Notwithstanding.") "She is what helps make us unique and signature enough to make the (Marriott's) Autograph Collection. Matilda is imperative!"
Her legions of fans from around the world who either write to her at the hotel or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org would sans doute agree. Matilda's assistant, Alice de Almeida, dutifully translates her replies into English and passes them along to her fans.
Each year the hotel honors her with a birthday party and in 2006 she was selected as Cat of the Year by the Westchester Cat Show. Her popularity was further enhanced by the publication of the children's book, The Algonquin Cat, by Val Schaffner in 2001. (See book jacket below.)
She usually is fed by the doormen and has the run of the hotel with the notable exception of the kitchen and dining area. That in itself is remarkable in that health departments in Gotham and elsewhere usually take a dim view of cats being anywhere on the premises of establishments that serve food. (See Cat Defender posts of February 17, 2009, October 23, 2008, and April 20, 2006 entitled, respectively, "Health Department Banishes Smallcat from Popular Carson City Restaurant but Her Feisty Owner Is Putting Up Quite a Fight," "Pecksniffian Management at Swindon Pub Plies Ember with Food and Then Gives Her the Bum's Rush," and "Molly Is Finally Rescued After Spending Two Weeks Trapped Inside the Walls of an English Deli in Greenwich Village.")
If it is fair to euphemistically say that Matilda is part of the woodwork at the Algonquin, Kaspar literally is the woodwork at the Savoy on the Strand in London. The three-foot-high black cat was sculptured especially for the Savoy Grill by Basil Ionides during the 1920s. (See bottom photo of him.)
Although he does not have much to say, he has an extremely important job at the Savoy. In particular, he occasionally is called upon to round out dining parties of thirteen so as to ward off any potential bad luck.
Such gatherings are supposed to be not only unlucky in general but especially so for the first person to rise from the table. That old superstition was given credence in 1898 when South African diamond mine owner Woolf Joel hosted a party for thirteen at the hotel. Forewarned that he was courting disaster, he laughed off the old superstition but soon after he returned to Johannesburg he was murdered.
When word of his untimely end reached London management at the Savoy wisely decided that it would be imprudent to trifle with superstition any longer and accordingly took decisive action. At first a staffer was inveigled to round out dinner parties of thirteen but later Kaspar was recruited for that job and he has been a mainstay at the hotel ever since.
Whenever he is called upon to join such a gathering he receives the full treatment. He accordingly is seated, a napkin is tucked underneath his chin, and he is in due time served every course that his fellow diners receive. Of course since the Savoy is anything but an almshouse, one of his fellow diners is obliged to pay for his fare. (See Los Angeles Times, May 9, 2007, "In London, Prowling for Cat Tales.")
That is a small price to pay, however, in order to ward off bad luck and to assuage the trepidations of those who suffer from triskaidekaphobia. In hindsight, bringing Kaspar on board appears to have been a stroke of absolute genius in that as far as it is known none of those who have shared a table with him have met with tragedy.
When he is not needed, Kaspar bides his time lounging in a display case opposite the hotel's gift shop. Unfortunately, his rations of late have been especially meager since the Savoy only reopened on October 10th after having been shuttered for three years while it underwent renovations to the tune of £220 million. (See CNBC, October 11, 2010, "Savoy Hotel Returns After World's Priciest Makeover.")
Kaspar also enjoys the rare distinction of having been at one time under the protection of Winston Churchill. That was after he was stolen by members of the Royal Air Force and Churchill superseded on the hotel's behalf in order to secure his return.
In addition to their love of cats, both the Algonquin and the Savoy also have strong ties to the literary world. The former, for example, is famous for its literary roundtable which was comprised of the likes of playwright Robert E. Sherwood, humorist Robert Benchley, and poet Dorothy Parker. To this very day the hotel still gives discounted lunches and rack rates to noted authors.
The Savoy, on the other hand, has a writers in residence program which currently includes feminist author Fay Weldon and children's author, Michael Morpurgo. In fact, Morpurgo's children's book, Kaspar: Prince of Cats, recants the story of an eponymous cat that stayed briefly at the Savoy before embarking upon an around-the-world sea adventure.
Along with its structural adaptation to the twenty-first century, the Savoy now has instituted what is believed to be the world's inaugural blogger in residence program and the first recipient to be so honored is actor and comedian Stephen Fry.
In conclusion, it is heartening that both Matilda and Kaspar are secure in their respective positions and are not going anywhere anytime soon. That is considerably more than can be said for the used, abused, and discarded feline employees of the historic Anderson Inn in Wabasha, Minnesota. (See Cat Defender post of May 15, 2008 entitled "Predatory Capitalism Rears Its Ugly Head as Minnesota Bed and Breakfast Sacks 'Overnight' Cats, Morris and Fred.")
Photos: Algonquin (Matilda on chair), The New York Observer (Matilda), Amazon (book jacket), and Susan Lendroth of the Los Angeles Times (Kaspar).