Nine Lives? This One, Not That Fun



Matilda Poses for Fans. Photo: Alice de Almeida

Matilda lies down uncomfortably, next to Alice de Almeida, behind the lobby desk at the Algonquin Hotel, with an electric collar around her neck and a face that could only be described as crestfallen.  Matilda, like the nine cats that have preceded her, had grown comfortable roaming the halls and interacting with guests at the 99- year-old hotel but no more. City Health Inspectors insist that she must stay clear of the dining area.

The City Department of Health and Mental Hygeine a few months ago sent a letter to the Algonquin Staff reminding them that it’s unacceptable for Matilda to meander anywhere near patrons as they dine, even though that’s what she’s always done.  “We have been working with Matilda for six weeks on retraining her to stay clear of the dining area.” said de Almeida, the administrative assistant to the general manager, and Matilda’s trainer. “We have always been careful to stop her from going near those eating dinner, but ever since the notice, we have been paying extra careful attention to respect the Board of Health,” says de Almeida.

The members of the Algonquin Hotel Round Table– a collection of literary greats that met for lunch at the restaurant in the 1920’s, and later influenced young writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and New Yorker editor Harold Ross–all had a fondness for a particular stray cat that always wandered into the Algonquin hotel.  John Barrymore, the towering Shakespearean actor who was a regular at the hotel, decided that the cat deserved a literary name and suggested Hamlet.  Since that day, the Algonquin hotel has had seven male cats named Hamlet, and three female cats named Matilda.  While a beautiful painting of the roundtable members hangs above the legendary table, the last vestige of that era is the current cat, Matilda.

Matilda has already lived the feline version of a rags to riches tale.  Last year the gray and white spattered blue-eyed cat was abandoned at the North Shore Animal Rescue in Long Island.  The previous cat, also named Matilda, was in the process of retiring to an undisclosed location and in a bow to tradition, the Algonquin Hotel went on the search for the next stray cat to the assume the role of New York’s most iconic feline. When de Almeida and the rest of the search panel laid their eyes on Matilda, they knew she was the one. “This cat was amazing, she stayed in the room wasn’t phased by anybody and we were taking pictures and she couldn’t care less. Even more eerily, when we brought her here she felt at home right away, and was totally in her element interacting with guests and smiling for photographs.”

Since the city edict Matilda has been forced to alter her daily routine.  The cat’s day used to consist of constant human interaction and attention and a series of catnaps.  Since the ruling, Matilda has been forced to adapt to a reduced amount of human interaction and a greater reliance upon her trainer and the rest of the hotel employees.

Since the “lockdown,” there has been a deluge of emails from loyal fans from Portugal, Russia, Australia Germany and elsewhere. Matilda has been bombarded with television interview requests and inquiries from tenured hotel guests.

In January, the hotel will undergo a four-month renovation including the first plumbing renovation since the hotel opened in 1902, as well as some other alterations.  Matilda will be in comfortable hands during the process. “We are in the process of deciding which cat spa we will be leaving Matilda at during the renovation process,” de Almeida said.  According to Eddie, a hotel staff member who didn’t want his last name printed for fear of garnering attention from the cat’s throng of supporters, “I sometimes wonder jokingly whether or not the hotel is closing for four months because of Matilda’s frustration at the health people. “