Luna takes a well-deserved catnap from cabaret at the Algonquin Cat's Annual Celebration. Photo: Charmaine P. Rice
BY CHARMAINE P. RICE
It was a meow-velous send-off at the Algonquin for Matilda III, the feline doyenne of the landmark hotel. After seven years of purrfect service, Matilda is retiring from public life.
Guests donned their fanciest feline-inspired frocks August 3 to celebrate Matilda and admire the latest in kitty couture. This year’s celebration paid homage to Tony Award-winning Broadway musicals, with a live performance of “Memory” by cast members of the Broadway show “CATS.” Handled by their owners, the cats strutted up and down the catwalk modeling custom outfits referencing “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Les Misérables,” “Cabaret,” “The King & I” and half-dozen other Broadway shows.
The festivities, however, were not just about showcasing the latest in feline fashions — all of the proceeds would benefit the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.
The nonprofit organization’s key programs include the NYC Feral Cat Initiative and adoption events, as well as the Alliance’s Wheels of Hope program. Begun in 1995, Wheels of Hope involves the dispatching of six vans 365 days a year to rescue animals that might otherwise be euthanized. The organization partners with no-kill shelters, rescue groups and a network of foster caregivers across the city to place animals they rescue. Last year’s celebration and cat fashion show raised $10,000, according to the mayor’s office.
Mobile adoption units were stationed in front of the hotel starting at 3 p.m. and throughout the event’s duration.
“The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals is such a great partner because of their reach and vast network of no-kill shelters,” the Algonquin’s marketing manager, Nicholas Sciammarella, said. He noted that a frequent hotel guest had adopted Matilda and that her new home will befit her keen sense of aesthetics, honed from her residency at the elegant hotel. The regal Ragdoll is the hotel’s 11th resident cat mascot.
She did not always lead a charmed life. “Matilda was left in a box outside of the North Shore Animal League and that’s how she came to us,” Sciammarella said, referring to a no-kill shelter in Port Washington, Long Island. All of the hotel’s resident felines come from area shelters, including Matilda’s successor, Hamlet, a young orange tabby from Bideawee. Hamlet will be the first male mascot in more than 40 years.
According to hotel lore, actor John Barrymore renamed Rusty, the resident male cat at the time Barrymore was a guest, Hamlet, in honor of his greatest stage role. The Algonquin has hosted a resident feline dating as far back as the 1920s, with all females named “Matilda” and males, “Hamlet.”
A portrait was commissioned to commemorate Matilda’s time at the hotel. New York-based painter Marcus Pierno presented the painting to Alice de Almeida, the longtime “chief cat officer” at the Algonquin, whose many duties include managing the Algonquin cat’s social media accounts, its feedings and vet appointments and generally looking after the hotel’s resident feline.
Animal fashion designer and animal talent manager Ada Nieves designed and created all of the costumes, with her own cat, Martini, modeling an ensemble inspired by “The Music Man.” Nieves found Martini, now 10, wandering on a Brooklyn street when he was 3 years old. Nieves co-chairs and acts as creative director of The New York Pet Fashion Show and coordinates the Algonquin’s cat fashion show each year.
“All the costumes I make keep the cat in mind. If my own cat can’t jump and act like a cat while wearing it, then it won’t make it into the show,” she said. “Events like these are a win-win situation. We help animals in need while having fun and meeting other like-minded pet lovers. Pet fashion shows raise animal awareness.”
Guests at the pawty enjoyed crudités, hors d’oeuvres and desserts and sipped from signature Algonquin cocktails from an open bar. Attendees also had the opportunity to bid on items from the silent auction. A grand cake for a grand dame cat crowned the table.
Matilda would’ve been very pleased indeed.