Back in January, the famed Algonquin Hotel in New York closed its doors for one of the largest renovation projects in the hotel's history. When returning guests visit the property after it reopens this spring, they will experience the many changes and updates first hand. But one aspect of the property's rich history will remain quite familiar—the 5-year old, blue-eyed Rag Doll cat named Matilda.
The feline presence at the West 44th Street hotel dates back to 1932 when the owner and manager of the hotel, Frank Case, welcomed in a stray cat from the streets and provided the four-legged creature with food and water. The initial cat was called Rusty, but the name of the Algonquin cat has evolved over the years. Male cats are called Hamlet (at legendary actor John Barrymore's suggestion) and the female felines are referred to as Matilda.
The current Matilda joined the Algonquin in December of 2010 and continues to be a draw for guests who stay at the popular Manhattan destination.
"What Matilda does is take the edge off of New York City," said General Manager Gary Budge. "She is a very warm and welcoming animal, which further aligns and supports what our team is all about at The Algonquin. There's something about the quiet nature and playfulness of a cat that helps our guests feel a little bit more at ease."
When the hotel renovations got underway, Matilda relocated to a residence in Queens to be kept safe during construction—a precaution that makes sense given the extent of the project.
"The renovation is what I would call 'heavy lifting,'" said Budge. "This is arguably the biggest and most expensive renovation that's been done at the Algonquin in 50 years."
Within the past few months, the Algonquin has made major changes to the interior of the 110-year old building. The bathrooms in the property were completely gutted and replaced, plumbing was redone, the elevators were upgraded, and work was completed on the heating, cooling, and ventilation systems to make them more functional and energy efficient.
"When we reopen, returning guests will quickly see and feel the difference," said Budge. "But beyond that, they will appreciate the amount of work that has been done in a relatively short amount of time."
The reopening date of the Algonquin is scheduled for May 24, and Budge expects Matilda to return to her post on May 23. The famous feline's first order of business will be to help plan her annual birthday bash at the hotel, set for August. The event, which includes an outrageous cat fashion show, helps raise money for local animal shelters and facilities.
The extensive renovations at the Algonquin will surely entice guests with new improvements and upgrades, but the draw remains the hotel's storied past. Much of the property's history and provenance—including Matilda—has been honored and preserved.
"The tradition of the Algonquin Cat is just one point that makes us unique, different, and special," said Budge. "When you stay at the Algonquin, it's an authentic experience and it's a New York experience. Matilda, metaphorically, wraps it up with a bow."