My first visit to the Algonquin, in the 1970s, was for a drink in the lobby with my friend Glen, then newly returned from living in Europe. We were there because he wanted to show me where the Vicious Circle had met and, if I remember rightly, he said the lobby which to my eyes looked old and tired, had been recently refurbished and, to the relief of the clientele, few if any visual changes had been made. Years ago, we stayed there a few times, swapping the inconvenience of small rooms for the glamour (to my eyes) of the lobby but, eventually, the purgatorial seating and intrusive waiters sent us seeking a more contemporary setting and larger rooms.
So it was, the morning after the previous day's vespertine glance at the Algonquin remodel, I couldn't for the life of me recall if the wonderful old nicotine-stained Chinoiserie murals were still there, I headed out across the street, warnings of doom from the doormen notwithstanding. The murals were gone, of course, replaced with what appeared to be honey vinyl. Otherwise, not much had changed excepting for sconces, chandeliers, and textiles, or so it appeared to me. And it perhaps is entirely the point that like a face after photoshopping or or a facelift, it looses looses much of what had been its character and therefore its attraction.
The Royalton, in all of its late 1980s Starckness, attracted me no-end, though we never stayed there. It caught the moment and I wish those interiors had survived despite them probably showcasing the worst of the that time's bullishness – for all, or maybe because of, its in-yer-face icy arrogance it had tremendous style. A high-water mark, I think, in hotel design that was obliterated not twenty years later and replaced with a bronzed woody ponderousness as visually negating as advanced cataracts. In the redesign no reference was made to its past – except that our bathroom vanity stool looked very similar to one of Starck's small tables.
Of the two – the Royalton and the Algonquin – it was the former that was teeming with the after-work crowd. My friend David and I discussed the fact that we both remembered the Philippe Starck remodel but on looking around thought it unlikely, given the age of the majority of the clientele, that many others would. "Begone dull care" said he and hailed the waitress – we needed to be on our way.
Uber fans and grateful customers thereof, we headed in comfort to the Gloria Vanderbilt – Recent Paintings opening at the 1stdibs Gallery later that evening. Look at last Friday's New York Social Diary for an account of the opening – not that you will see me, but the Celt is there.
I do find that the famous underwhelm and such an event, perfect in its way for people-watching, had its complement thereof. No-one resembled their photoshopped images except in passing, which is surreal, really, if you think about it. I'm not referring to the artist who, for a woman just turned ninety, looked pretty amazing. Twice I found myself being filmed for the HBO special reportedly being made about Gloria Vanderbilt, and was amused when the lady with the cameraman called me by a name not my own. Such is fame!
Later that evening as we ate Indian food one of the charming ladies at the next table which whom I'd struck up a conversation asked me if I recognized her uncle in the photo she handed me. I did. There he was, shortly after his wife had died, looking for all the proud family man in his element, arm around a younger version of the lady at my side – George Burns. There was fame!