It all began in June of 1919 when theatrical press agent John Peter Toohey decided to play a prank on New York Times drama critic Alexander Woollcott. Toohey was mildly miffed that Woollcott had refused to mention one of Toohey’s clients in his Times column. So, Toohey organized a luncheon at the Algonquin that he claimed was to celebrate Woolcott’s return from Europe, where he served as a reporter for Stars and Stripes, reporting on World War I. However, instead of honoring Woollcott, Toohey and the assembled guests humorously roasted Woollcott on a variety of topics. Surprisingly, Woollcott loved the luncheon and suggested they make it a regular thing.
So, for the next ten years, Toohey, Woollcott and many members of New York’s theatrical and journalistic scenes regularly met at the Algonquin for a lunch filled with wisecracks and barbed witticisms. Initially the group met at a long rectangular table in the hotel’s Pergola Room. They called themselves “The Board” and their luncheons were naturally dubbed “Board meetings.” In addition to Toohey and Woollcott, the members of the Board included Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, novelist Edna Ferber, playwright George S. Kaufman, New Yorker founder Harold Ross, humorist Robert Benchley, sportswriter Heywood Broun, and many more. Over time, the Board got too large for its rectangular table, and were moved to a round table in the Algonquin’s Rose Room. The group often played pranks and made jokes at each others’ expense, and naturally references to these and other events made appearances in various members’ newspaper columns, and thus the legend of the group, now informally known as the “Algonquin Round Table,” was spread across the country.
However, like all good things, the Round Table’s luncheons eventually came to an end. Some members had grown tired of the sometimes vicious nature of the Round Table’s japes. Although there was no definitive date for the end of the Round Table’s luncheons, Edna Ferber knew that the fun was over when she arrived at the Algonquin one afternoon in 1932 and discovered that a family from Kansas had been seated at the Round Table.
The Round Table crowd created a few cocktails in their own honor, but the most lasting of those is of course called The Algonquin. It’s a nice mellow drink with only a slight edge.
- 1 1/2 ounces Rye Whiskey
- 3/4 ounces Dry Vermouth
- 3/4 ounces pineapple juice
Stir the rye, dry vermouth and pineapple juice together with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and add two to three drops of orange bitters.
Tomorrow: The Doctor is in.