When I first moved to New York, I was inspired to attend the Algonquin Salon, an open mic which eventually would become The Salon open mic (now at Etcetera Etcetera on Sunday nights). It was summer, and my friend Vanessa clued me in that the Algonquin Salon would be a great place to practice repertoire, meet composers and other singers, and generally have a great time. I went alone one evening, stepping for the first time into the historic Algonquin Hotel. I took a moment to gawk at the actual Algonquin Round Table in the lobby, then stepped into the almost equally famous Oak Room, where the Algonquin Salon was temporarily holding court (at that time, it usually was in the lobby itself). The theme was a gender-bending one – I wore a bowler hat and sang “The Impossible Dream,” knees shaking a bit as I sang for a room completely full of strangers. In months and years to come, I would call a large percentage of those strangers friends and co-workers.
The thrill of singing in the Oak Room in and of itself was indelibly stamped upon my memory (and I’m not the only newcomer to New York to fall for its immense history and style). I would return to the Oak Room a few more times to see full performances from Cabaret and Broadway alum, and put the venue on my “bucket list” as a solo performer (and later as a founding member of Marquee Five).
That part of my bucket list is not to be fulfilled, however, if the owners of the Algonquin Hotel wish to fulfill their own “renovation” list, which includes removing the Oak Room and remodeling it into a lounge for Marriott Reward Elite guests, according to Hotel General Manager Gary Budge.
What a shame it is, this news. This total disregard for history, for music, for art, for what New York’s identity is. I’ve been monitoring the Algonquin Hotel Facebook Page today, and most comments on the wall and on the official post regarding this press release has been devastated; most people claim that there won’t be any reasons left to visit the Algonquin Hotel again, once the Oak Room is no more.
Although Dorothy Parker once wrote “A little bad taste is like a nice dash of paprika,” this choice of action by the managerial Power that Be of the Algonquin Hotel leave nothing so spicy or delicious to my tongue. At least I have a few memories of the Oak Room to keep for myself. I had wished future generations would be able to make their own in years to come – alas, this is not to be. And it truly…sucks.
*UPDATE 2/11/2012* – if you would like to sign a petition to send to the owners of the Marriott/Algonquin Salon regarding the Oak Room, please do so below:
Farewell, Oak Room