Changes on West 44th between 5th and 6th Avenues

In the 1990s I saw Diana Krall play the Oak Room in the Algonquin Hotel. This was the early period of her career when she covered upbeat Nat King Cole numbers, her piano doubling as percussion in trio with Russell Malone's guitar and Christian McBride's bass. What a show. There were maybe a dozen tables crowded into the rectangular room. My table was less than a skip and a hop from Krall's baby grand.

10145451316_0203fb6ea4_zLast week, I was in the Algonquin having lunch with my wife and another couple. As we dealt with the check I asked our waiter if I might pop my head into the Oak Room. Sure, he said.

He followed me in. The room was smaller, squarer than I had remembered it. "It looks smaller," I said. "It is," he said. He explained how the wall of the bar to the south had pushed north. The bar was bathed in a gimmicky saphire light and was now the hotel's featured nightspot. But no live shows there. And no more shows in the Oak Room. "I saw Diana Krall play here ages ago," I said, nodding at a piano crammed into a corner. "That was the one she played," he said.

I returned to my wife and our friends and we left the Algonquin. Confident that the facades of West 44th had not changed, I promised my party I would show them the commemorative plaque on the building where the New Yorker magazine had long had its offices.

But I couldn't find it!

I doubled back a couple times, knowing a landmark like that would not be de-listed.

Finally I did spy a brass plaque, illegible through the thick plates of a glass vestibule. It was the old plaque I remembered, just not exposed to the sidewalk any longer. To accommodate a set of revolving doors, the plaque had to be walled in.

We all went into the vestibule to appreciate the plaque, and connect to the Algonquin round table the names of the famous writers referenced, people from an era preceding both me and Diana Krall.

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