Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Old New York: This Room at the Iroquois is One for the Books

Step into Old New York at the New York Library at the Iroquois

By Mitch Broder

I walked into the Iroquois Hotel, selected a book called “New York Confidential,” opened it up, and saw a picture of Mayor Ed Koch milking a cow.

The Algonquin hotel is undergoing a renovation
You just can’t do that at the Algonquin.

Assuming that you’d want to.

One good reason that you can’t is that the Algonquin is boarded up. It’s enduring a renovation that could drag on till the summer. But you couldn’t even do it when the Algonquin was open, because, unlike the Iroquois, the Algonquin never had the New York Library.

The two hotels do have things in common. They’re both over a century old. They’re both named after Indian peoples. They’re both on the same block of West 44th Street. But after that, everything changes. The Algonquin got famous. It had its Round Table. It’s had its Cat. It has an entry on Wikipedia.

A true old New York experience awaits inside the Iroquois HotelThe Iroquois has accepted this gracefully. And now it is accepting gracefully that for possibly half of this year its bigger competitor is on the DL. It has a chance to show Algonquin patrons what it’s got that their place hasn’t, which may not be an awful lot but does include Koch and his cow.

The New York Library is a room off the Iroquois lobby whose name leads some people to think that it’s a branch of The New York Public Library. It is not. But it is an eclectic collection of books about New York City, which may be freely enjoyed by hotel guests and by suitably discreet visitors.

The titles include “Subwayland” and “Old Penn Station,” “Broadway Musicals” and “Times Square Spectacular,” “Wall Street” and “212 Views of Central Park.” There’s “Lost New York,” “Antiquing New York,” “Tales of Gaslight New York,” “The Battle for New York,” “The Best Bars of New York,” and, nostalgically, “Great Blizzards of New York City.”

It's near impossible not to relax with a cup of warm apple cider and the newspaper inside the New York Library at the Iroquois Hotel

The books are accompanied by likewise quaint offerings such as newspapers and magazines, along with warm apple cider in the cool months and cool citrus water in the warm ones. All this can be savored on the leather sofa or the matching leather chairs, in the sunlight from the street windows or in the glow of the chandelier.

A step back in time is manufactured at the not so Old in New York spot which was recently renovated 12 years ago at the Iroquois Hotel

The faux-vintage room replaced an actual-vintage barbershop about twelve years ago, in the course of the hotel’s own renovation. It seeks a balance in time, since it’s also equipped with two computers, a printer, and a touch screen for airline arrivals and departures that made me jumpy just to look at.

A touch of the New in New York features a computer in the New York Library at the Iroquois Hotel
A rude guest can further break the mood with cell-phone conversations, but that can happen anywhere, and here you can glare at close range. Mostly, the library’s a refuge. And at times it’s a dining room. It hosts dinners for up to eleven, to help support itself.

Ironically, all its books don’t do much to help the Iroquois compete with the Algonquin’s literary past. Nor does its own claim to fame, which is that James Dean slept there. For years. Guests ask to stay in his room. But it’s not the same as a legendary lobby.

Of course, there’s the other Iroquois story. That’s the one about Paul Geidel, the teenage bellhop who murdered a wealthy guest for a nonexistent windfall. He was locked up in 1911 — and stayed locked up for sixty-nine years. For his stretch, he made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Dean and Geidel together, though, can’t equal Dorothy Parker and Matilda the Cat. So the Iroquois, library and all, is content to keep its place. In fact, the manager, Robert Holmes, told me that he sympathizes with the hobbled Algonquin. He added only: “It certainly doesn’t hurt us that they’re closed.”

The New York Library also hosts dinner for the Iroquois Hotel

Get between the covers at The Iroquois New York, 49 West 44th Street, between Fifth and Sixth avenues, New York City.


  1. I like the reverse room shots. I can see the framed photo of Grand Central in the first one, and then its mirror image in the next photo. So now I can see exactly how the room lays out. Good planning. How does it smell in there? Nice, like books and leather?
      My favorite line..." and here you can glare at close range." :)

  2. I'm really looking forward to checking this place out! I love that they have a library of books dedicated to NYC...not to mention the regal feel of the library! Thanks for the suggestion!

  3. Looks like a great place to chill out for a bit Mitch. Thanks again for a fun find!

  4. A cozy NYC oasis in the heart of mid-town. I'll have to "get between the covers" sometime! Thanks.