Matilda, the Algonquin Cat

At Christmastime, The Algonquin Hotel is as glittery and festive as the rest of the city, with its ceiling-high Christmas tree, champagne flutes, jolly revelers and decorative garlands. However, there’s a little reminder of summer etched onto those historic walls if you look close enough.

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It all started back in August, when Matilda became the star of her very own children’s book, Matilda, The Algonquin Cat. The three-year project was announced at Matilda’s annual birthday party gala, where I met the author Leslie Martini.

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What Eloise is to The Plaza, Matilda is to The Algonquin – except Matilda is a real-life glamour puss who currently lives on the property (and occasionally acts as the hotel concierge). The Algonquin has had a cat in residence since the 1930s, when a stray wandered through the hotel doors and made himself at home. The current famous feline, Matilda, has been living in the hotel since 2010. The book takes readers along for a day in Matilda’s life exploring the hotel. There are some nods to notable past guests – like the Texas real estate mogul who proposed to his girlfriend with the hotel’s famous $10,000 martini – and some odes to famous regulars – like Al Hirschfeld and John Barrymore.

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The artist, Massimo Mongiardo, styled his illustrations based on the very first issue of the New Yorker. (The Algonquin was a favorite destination for the magazine’s writers.) This is the coloring book version, a favorite of adults even more so than kids. There’s also a hard cover and a soft cover book for sale at the hotel.

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The books were some of the many prizes auctioned off at Matilda’s birthday, helping to raise over $10,000 for the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of Matilda’s birthday gala. You might recognize some fur-miliar (sorry, had to) faces from last year. The theme this year was “Through the Decades,” an ode to some of The Algonquin’s most famous celebrity regulars and some notable children’s book characters.

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There was Al Hirschfeld, Michael Feinstin, John Barrymore, Robin Hood and more.

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Hamlet took the “not to be” to heart and had a nap, while Joe DiMaggio only wanted to be petted.

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Some humans even got in on the act.

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It coincided nicely with the Broadway revival of Cats, which is just around the block.

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Leslie got her inspiration for the book from her childhood experiences at the Algonquin. Her mother used to take her to the hotel when they visited New York so they could see Matilda. She now has ragdoll cats of her own. The idea for the book came from her daughter, who commented once when her cat was being cranky that she must be mad that she’s not Matilda who gets to live in a hotel. For three years, the book was shuffled to different editors and publishers who insisted that Leslie create a different story arc so it would be more fantastical for children. She stayed true to her vision, portraying the whimsical (but true) days in Matilda’s already fantastical life, and it worked out perfectly.

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In October, the illustrations went up on the walls. One of Leslie’s favorites shows the special bond between Matilda and Hadley (who is really Alice, the dedicated Chief Cat Officer of the Algonquin).

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I like this one, because if you’ve ever lived with a cat this has absolutely happened to you at some point. I also love the illustration of Matilda consulting with the hotel chefs. They cook her special meals on holidays – and of course, Christmas is just around the corner.

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Discovering the Tartan Day Parade

Several years ago, I lived in Williamsburg with my Scottish roommate, Shona. We pottered around the city every weekend, checking out shops and museums and whatever else was happening.

One April, we were on our way to Central Park when we spotted a group of bagpipers in kilts hanging out on a cross street. This got our attention, but bagpipes and kilts aren’t as strange as you’d think in New York. Then we noticed that the police had barricaded part of Sixth Avenue. With street fairs happening every weekend, this isn’t that unusual. It was only when we noticed people waving Scottish flags and a band of terriers waddling around that we had to stop and ask some questions.

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It was the Scotland parade, which is officially called the Tartan Day Parade – but I call it the Scottie parade… for obvious reasons.

Once you see a group of Scottish terriers waddling down the street in unison, their little legs scurrying as fast as they can go beneath their furry skirts, you won’t remember anything else.

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Tartan Week, New York City’s annual celebration of all things Scottish, has taken off in recent years – but the parade remains completely manageable (for now). That first year Shona and I went, there were so few spectators there that we could pet the dogs while they took a break and the bagpipers stopped mid-parade to invite us to the pub. There are crowds now, but not the normal crush of people.

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Plenty of spots to stick your nose out through the bars, if you so choose.

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This year, Seamus and I hung around the side street line up – which happened to be outside of the pet-friendly Algonquin Hotel. It was a typical Scottish day weather-wise (read: rainy) so I’ve mixed in some sunny photos from last year. The Westies started turning brown from mud, but that didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. (And it didn’t stop a crowd from trying to catch a glimpse of the cast of Outlander outside the hotel.)

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I bring Seamus in to watch the festivities each year. It has three things he loves: other dogs, parades and bagpipes. Yes, dogs hear two times the frequencies as humans and this guy somehow loves the sound of bagpipes wailing at him. I guess it’s in his blood.

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He’s quite the little ambassador, greeting strangers and posing for photos. (Does Tartan Week need an ambassadog by any chance?)

I’m biased, but I think they’re the highlight of the parade. I’m not alone in my Scottie and Westie obsession – when the dogs start prancing down Sixth Avenue (rarely in a straight line and rarely without getting distracted), you can hear a collective “Oooh!” from the crowd followed by pointing and hysterical laughter. They are truly funny little creatures.

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Every single day of Seamus’s life, a stranger has stopped to see him. He stars in every AirBnBer’s photographs. People will actually pull their cars over to ask questions about him and pet him. I can’t confirm this, but thanks to one particular group of exchange students I am positive that he’s big in Japan. Every week, like clockwork, the street cleaner yells out, “How could anyone ever be sad looking at that face?” I agree, of course (because he’s the best), but most of the time I see Seamus from high above so I don’t quite get the full effect. Watching the terriers waddle and scurry down Sixth Avenue like little furry bumper cars on a mission is truly a sight to behold.

Have you ever been to the Tartan Day Parade? Will you go next year?

 

 

 

Happy Fur-th day, Matilda

Normally, when the cops show up to a birthday party, it’s time to go home. Then again, normally the birthday girl is a human.

If you were out last night in Times Square, you might have noticed an eclectic crowd of cats and cops wandering into the Algonquin Hotel to celebrate Matilda’s birthday.

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Matilda, the Algonquin’s resident feline, is arguably the most famous cat in New York. Her annual birthday bash is a highly coveted ticket – general admission sold out in a day, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Mayor’s Alliance for New York City’s Animals.

The story of “The Algonquin Cat” is a New York legend. Back in the 1920s, a tabby cat wandered down 44th Street into the Algonquin Hotel lobby, where he stayed. Ever since “Hamlet” set up shop, the hotel has had an in-residence feline mascot.

Matilda came from the North Shore Animal League, so she very generously uses her birthday as a chance to give back to her less fortunate fellow felines.

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This year, Matilda awarded four members of the NYPD’s new Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad for their work saving New York City’s cats. This new unit took over cruelty investigations when the ASPCA shut down their New York City law enforcement branch. Each officer had a special cat rescue story.

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Right before a huge snowstorm this past winter, Detective Lisa Bergen got a call about a cat and her newborn litter of kittens living precariously underneath a building. It took several hours in freezing temperatures, but she successfully coaxed all of them out.

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Officer John Passarella made headlines when he rescued a Brooklyn kitten trapped in a car engine this past June.

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Also in June, Officer Sean Ryan spent an hour under a Queens tow truck trying to dislodge a kitten. (June was a rough month for cats.)

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Last but not least, Officer Andrea DiNella had a very Algonquin experience when a cat waltzed into her precinct and “turned himself in.” The cat, who she named Frankie, refused to leave the office so she took care of him until he could be placed for adoption.

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In keeping with the theme, Matilda’s friends put on a truly epic fashion show. (What’s a party without models? Or, as they preferred to be called, mew-dels.) Ada Nieves, a certified animal fashion designer from FIT, staged “A Feline Salute to NYC’s First Responders” in the Algonquin’s Oak Room.

Each cat wore a custom New York City uniform.

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There was Aodhan, the cutest member of the MTA.

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Zeus, the FDNY fire chief, had the best accessories.

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Milo, the dog catcher, brought his favorite pug toy.

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Thunderfolds, the Red Cross nurse, had a moment with Toaster, from FEMA.

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Q, the doctor, likes to go for a leash walk every day. At the end of the night, he waltzed through the Algonquin’s doors to a round of applause.

These surprisingly calm kitties all took a cat nap at some point, but Aodhan may have partied a little too hard.

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There was the NYPD cat, who made a brief-yet-show-stopping appearance in his miniature uniform.

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Outside in the adoption van, several “little New Yorkers” found homes with bigger New Yorkers before the end of the party.

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The guest of honor, Matilda, was a bit camera shy, but in true hostess fashion she popped in every now and then to check on everyone.

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