A Literary Lunch

by Mel Gilden

A few years ago I visited my agent, as she was then, in New York City. This was an exciting time for me, not only because of the double whammy of having an agent and visiting New York, but because my career was going so well. A triple whammy. And I knew just how to celebrate it. I would have lunch with her at the Algonquin Hotel.

For many years the Algonquin Hotel had been known as a literary hot spot, mainly because during the 1920s it was there that the Algonquin Round Table met. Robert Benchley, Edna Ferber, and Harpo Marx — to name just a few of the literary greats who weekly sat down to lunch together — were all members.

Eating was secondary to the wit and wisdom they spouted to each other. Much of what they said appeared the next day in newspapers. A few of their brighter quips are still in use. For instance, Dorothy Parker once said, "That woman speaks eighteen languages and can't say 'no' in any of them." I don't know who Ms. Parker was referring to way back when, but the comment certainly must still apply to somebody today.

In the 1980s the Algonquin was still famous, and I tingled and wriggled like a puppy at the prospect of having lunch there with my agent. It seemed like such a literary thing to do. We even had martinis. What else would one have at the Rose Room of the Algonquin? I can't say that I am a fan of the martini even now, but I'm glad that I drank my one and only sample at that place.

I expected the Rose Room to be snooty and kind of high-falutin' but I turned out to be wrong. I must have let slip that I was a fan of the Round Table. Slip! Hah! I think I asked the head waiter when Dorothy Parker would be in. He crinkled at me charmingly and told me she would be in "later." As my agent and I drank and ate, he supplied me with stir sticks, napkins, and note pads, each printed with either the distinctive Algonquin A or the famous Al Hirschfeld caricature of a typical Round Table gathering.

Algonquin Roundtable

I don't remember what I ate for lunch that day, or how much if cost me, probably enough to buy a few tanks of gas even at today's prices, but it was a memorable moment in my life and worth every penny.