Friday, February 19, 2010

The Algonquin Hotel Cat Makes Guests Feel Right at Home

By Julia Williams

When I’m traveling, the thing I miss most about “home” is spending time with my cats. If I’ve had a difficult day, nothing brings me back into balance quicker than a good petting session. When I need some affection, I have three felines who are happy to give it, provided they get some back. Needless to say, I get very homesick for my cats when I am away, and I’m sure many cat owners feel the same – which is why, if you ever find yourself in New York City, you simply must stay at the Algonquin Hotel!

This landmark hotel has many claims to fame, but is known the world over for their famous feline resident: a gorgeous Ragdoll cat named Matilda. This PURRsonable feline is always on hand to make sure that any hotel guest who needs some kitty love, shall have it. Now that’s what I call five-star hospitality!

The oldest operating hotel in New York City, the Algonquin has kept a “resident cat” since the 1930s. The story goes that one stormy night, a bedraggled cat wandered into the hotel seeking food and shelter. The hotel’s owner at the time, known to be a very gracious host, felt sorry for the cat and welcomed it into the hotel.

That first hotel cat was an orange tabby initially called Rusty. Hotel lore claims that actor John Barrymore, who was starring in Hamlet on Broadway, thought the cat needed a more theatrical name. Thus, the cat was rechristened Hamlet, and a tradition was born. Since then, all of the male Algonquin hotel cats are called Hamlet, and the females are named Matilda.

The current Matilda is the ninth Algonquin hotel cat. A former show cat, Matilda is the first purebred feline to reside at the hotel. She became their newest kitty concierge in 1997 at the tender age of two, and has endeared herself to the guests ever since. The Ragdoll is an American cat breed best known for its docile temperament and affectionate nature. These qualities make them a perfect hotel cat, and the ever-friendly Matilda does her breed proud.

Other than the kitchen and dining areas, Matilda has the run of the hotel and is frequently spotted snoozing at the front desk. However, her favorite place to hang out is her personal chaise lounge in the lobby, where she can oversee the comings and goings of the guests and get chin rubs from them.

Around check-in time, Matilda can be found by the luggage cart, where she likes to sniff all incoming baggage and greet the arriving guests. She has become quite popular over the years and receives mail weekly from all over the world. She even has her own email address, and has been the subject of countless stories. Once, when her cat collar was stolen, the tale of the “Algonquin Cat-Burglary” was the talk of the city.

Each year, the Algonquin Hotel throws Matilda a birthday bash as befits a New York celebrity. Perhaps the most memorable one, according to the hotel’s website, was her seventh birthday. With 150 of her closest friends in attendance, Matilda “jumped on her cake and ran out of the room, leaving a trail of paw prints.” Although she didn’t display much appreciation for her birthday party that year, the gatherings serve as a way for the hotel to raise a substantial sum for cat charities.

The Algonquin hotel cat has been memorialized in a children's book and a 24-karat gold pendant. The hotel’s bar even has a cocktail named after Matilda. Want to know more about this famous feline? You can watch a short video, Meet Matilda, the Algonquin Hotel Cat, on the Cat Channel website.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

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