Algonquin Kid's Table

Some of us in the UK really like your funny ‘Friends’ TV show. In one episode, Chandler is shown talking about a subject Joey doesn’t understand at all. He says ‘It was like the algonquin (sic) kid’s table’. I’m with Joey on this one, can anyone enlighten me, and perhaps correct my spelling of algonquin at the same time. Is it a tribe of Native Americans?


The Algonquin Round Table was a celebrated literary occasion at the Algonquin Hotel from 1919 to 1929. The most celebrated literati of the age gathered to trade deep thoughts and (mostly) bon mots. The most notable attendants were probably Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, and Robert Benchley. Flora should be along shortly with the full story.

The kid’s table is a small table in the kitchen, away from the adults, where children are stuck at Thanksgiving dinner. It has a deserved reputation as a pretty juvenile place (food fights, “he stole my white meat,” that sort of thing). An important but unrecognized rite of passage for American children is when they finally get promoted to the adult’s table for the big feast.

So Chandler’s reference is (as you would expect) satirical. I haven’t caught much Friends, but that’s a pretty funny line.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

I haven’t seen the episode in question, but I believe the comment is humourously combining a famous American literary circle and a typical American holiday tradition.

The Algonquin Hotel in NYC was to American writers what Raffle’s in Singapore was to those of the British Empire. In the Early 20th century a literary cirle known as the Algonquin Round table met there. The Round Table included Dorthy Parker, F. Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald and a bunch of other bon vivants I can’t think of right now. The members were notorious for clever and witty Oscar Wilde-type off-the-cuff remarks.

The “kid’s table” is a cheap, or improvised table where American children are forced to sit during holiday feasts, so there will be plenty of room at the dining table for the “grown-ups”. A real milestone in a young American’s life is when he finally gets to sit at the adult table. In very large families, this milestone might not be reached until the child is in his 20s!

The Algonquin is(was?) a hotel in New York City named for that indian nation. In the 1920’s and early 1930’s, it became the lunch-time hangout (at a large, round table) for a number of the finest writers in the U.S. at what became known as the Algonquin Round Table.

With all these witty people sitting about, a fair amount of good discussion (and a lot of savage wit) was expressed and the “reports” from it made it into many of their daily columns, their novels, and their biographies. It is a watchword for a freewheeling discussion among brilliant people in a semi-formal, but relaxed atmosphere.


Not only did Manhatten beat me by mere seconds, but I accidently posted under my supposedly dead handle. Killing that old grizzly is going to be harder than I thought!

Yes, the Algonquins were a tribe of Native Americans. They originated in Quebec, but were pressed southwest into New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware.

The Algonquin Round Table was a regular (and rather alcoholic) dinner meeting at which many of New York City’s greatest literary minds of the 1920’s presided and raised verbal hell, Dorothy Parker most notable. They met at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City, which was named for the indiginous tribe of the area.

Finally, the “kid’s table” reference is to the Thanksgiving holiday. Often at Thanksgiving, the extended family members attend (or serveral outside families) at only one house. At mealtime, there aren’t enough seats at the formal dining table, so the kids are seated at folding card tables, TV trays, etc. Being seated there is sort of a social caste: you aren’t “adult” enough to sit at the “grown-ups’” table.

Hope you can piece together the joke from that.

Papabear (Ursa Major):A real milestone in a young American’s life is when he finally gets to sit at the adult table. In very large families, this milestone might not be reached until the child is in his 20s!

At one Thanksgiving feast, the 50+ year olds were at the adult table. All the rest of us (21-35 year olds) were at a kids’ table, complete with whatever chairs they could pull together to sit at. One exception at our table was a mentally retarded (non-PC, sorry) foster child, about 15. Kinda put things in perspective, eh?

Now that everyone’s weighed in with the story of the Algonquin Hotel and its famous table of the 1920s, allow me to simultaneously hijack this thread and pee in the metaphorical Cheerios.

The best-known lunchers of the time included Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams, Heywood Broun, Robert Sherwood, and Herbert Bayard Swope. Not exactly names that come tripping off the tongue in 1999.

Harpo Marx and (arguably) Robert Benchley we know today because of their later success in Hollywood. (Only one book of Benchley’s comic essays in currently in print, and it’s a Dover book.) George S. Kaufman’s plays are still being performed, I guess, and Dorothy Parker has that PORTABLE DOROTHY PARKER still available. But the biggest names (at that time) were newspaper essayists, whose log-rolling and back-scratching was embarrassing even in their heyday.

I would venture the opinion that these guys were and are decidedly MINOR players in the Fields of Literature. Footnotes, if they’re lucky. Underachievers. 1920s versions of Slackers.

The Americans of the 1920s who had the real writing talent and energy got the hell out to Paris (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Virgil Thompson), or stayed home in Indiana or Vermont (Sinclair Lewis, Thedore Dreiser), well away from the temptation of the NYC procrastinators, the speakeasies, the bright lights of Broadway.

And wrote, and published, books. For which they are remembered today.

Okay, discuss!


Well, Uke, you seem to want to debate whether or not the members of the ART deserved to be famous. Who can say? Regardless, during their day they were quite well known, both in the public and literary circles. Benchley, Kaufman, and FPA wrote extensively for the stage, screen, papers and periodicals. Broun was one of the founders of the “New Yorker” magazine, still in print today. Wollcott was quite famous (he’s the inspiration for the title character in “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), and is partly responsible for the discovery of the Marx Brothers.

Maybe they didn’t have staying power, but that’s not their fault. I’ve read a lot of their work, and it’s still funny today.

Naw, Guy, I don’t deny that they were famous in their day, or say that they didn’t deserve fame, or that they weren’t awfully funny. And I may have loaded the above post by not mentioning editor Harold Ross, an Algonquinite in good standing, who originated THE NEW YORKER.

But look at the preceding posts:

“…most celebrated literati…”
“…finest writers in the U.S…”
“…greatest literary minds…”

My argument is, if FPA, Woolcott, and Broun are the best we have to offer from 1920s U.S. literature, we’re in trouble. I think we fin-de-siecle types are a little dazzled by the LEGEND of the Round Table, and of Prohibition-era NYC in general, to the point where we’re assigning more gold stars to these boys and girls than they really deserve.


Nuts…spelled “Woollcott” wrong, just above. He HATED that.

Oh, those people from the 20s! I thought you meant the modern-day Round-Tablers. Last time I was there, I spotted one of New York’s most successful editors and a brilliant biographer and humorist . . .

By the way (I think I mentioned this elsewhere), I went to school with one of the creators of Friends, and the character of Chandler is SO based on himself.

Ukulele Ike says:

Now I don’t know much about the life of John Dos Passos, but I always imagined that he lived in New York City (maybe because of “Manhattan Transfer”). And weren’t “Three Soldiers” and “Manhattan Transfer” written in the 1920s?

La franchise ne consiste pas à dire tout ce que l’on pense, mais à penser tout ce que l’on dit.
H. de Livry

And, IIRC, didn’t Robert Benchley achieve another kind of immortality by siring Peter Benchley of Jaws, etc. fame?

It’s quite an achievement to be the father of the author of book that stretched to three movies, one of them in 3-D!

p.s. Don’t go in the water!

“Vandelay!! Say Vandelay!!”

Of course, the fact that they were mostly writers of ephemera (and we all know that that isn’t real literature) wouldn’t have any bearing on whether they are well-respected in the current publishing industry.

I don’t think that I’ll retire my phrase “a number of the finest writers in the U.S.” until I see what the requirements are to be a “finest writer”–especially when the phrase did not indicate that they had no peers.

Stand the test of time? How much Dreiser or Fitzgerald would you folks be publishing, today, if they weren’t required reading in college? With the right ad campaigns, I could see Lewis and Hemingway staying in publication (if you could find a conglomerate to fund the ads), but you can’t find Virgil Thompson even on the college campuses–and only Dover let’s anyone read Cabell since Ballantine abandoned him.
Thurber is still in print and without the benefit of a college pump primer.

I take your point that there may have been a lot of hype surrounding the ART, but I think you’re a bit hasty in just dismissing them.


Y’know, given that I really like Oscar Wilde, you’d think I’d have known that…um.

nice to see my second ever posting sparked off a low-key literary wrestling match.

thankyou, one and all.

“Heaven sends us good meat, but the devil sends us cooks”
David Garrick (1717-1779)

Pluto–Robert Benchley and Peter Benchley are not related.

Wilde may have dispensed trivial epigrams and bons mots with the least of them, and there’s no doubt that his clever-clever pronouncements often had their longeur, but the man bequeathed us “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”, both towering works of genius whereat the muses have visited.

James Thurber wrote heart-warming stories about dogs.


I read at IMDB that Peter Benchley is the grandson of Robert Benchley. By way of Nathaniel Benchley. Is their information incorrect?



Now cut that out, or I’M gonna start saying nasty things about Business Systems Programmers. You bastards are only in it for the money! Why don’t you work for free?
I wasn’t dismissing the Algonquin gang. I’ve read them. I think they’re funny. Flora McFlimsey lent me a copy of a roaringly amusing book by Donald Ogden Stewart, which I am now convinced Dave Barry keeps by his bedside and plagarizes regularly. But I couldn’t name you three pieces each by Woollcott, FPA, or Broun, and I bet you couldn’t name 'em for me either.

BTW, Woollcott’s short-short spook story “Moonlight Sonata” is well worth reading.

Also: Peter Benchley is Robert Benchley’s grandson. (Nathaniel was the link.)

And: Yeah, 3 SOLDIERS was 1921, MANHATTAN TRANSFER was 1925. Dos Passos stayed home and WORKED, he didn’t go out drinking bathtub gin all afternoon and tossing around bons mots. He stayed home and WORKED.

Incidentally, I’m only repeating stuff that folks like Parker and Benchley brought up in the first place. From what I’ve read, they were full of self-loathing (Parker made several suicide attempts). The root of their unhappiness seemed to be “If only I stopped drinking all this bathtub gin and tossing around bons mots, I could get something really DECENT written.”