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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Tamara Hinson

Cats on tap: Meet the New York brewery cats living their best lives

Tamara Hinson

Apparently, I’m not alone in piling on pounds during hotel stays. According to Willis Loughhead, the Algonquin hotel’s general manager, long term guest Hamlet the Eighth is struggling to shift his post-pandemic pounds. His excess calories don’t come from room service, though, but titbit-proffering guests. For Hamlet is a hotel cat – one of a growing number of New York working cats employed not only for their rat-catching skills, but their people skills.

New York is famous for many things, including rats, hence the recent appointment of the Algonquin’s first so-called rat czar. Someone else doing their bit is Sheila Massey, founder of Hard Hat Cats. Massey previously worked with volunteer groups which neutered and vaccinated strays, before returning them to their colonies. “The aim is to stop breeding, but another benefit is rat deterrence – neighbourhoods with cat colonies are rat-free,” says Sheila. After hearing how working cats helped rid a Chicago brewery of rodents, Sheila founded Hard Hat Cats, which works with a shelter to rehome cats unsuitable for families – but perfectly suited to certain distilleries, breweries and hotels.

Hamlet the Eighth is the Algonquin’s resident celebrity cat
— (Tamara Hinson)

Join a tour of Brooklyn’s Kings County Distillery, New York’s oldest distillery, and you’ll almost certainly meet Harold and Maude, two Hard Hat Cats. Visitor services manager Aline Nocera initiated their adoption. “They get on incredibly well with the entire workforce, and love meeting visitors on tours,” says Nocera, who makes an interesting point about how working cats’ roles have evolved. “Our relationship with domesticated animals has changed. These cats are hybrids of traditional working animals and pets, which is a more recent concept.” Nocera hasn’t seen any rodents since Harold and Maude arrived. “Rather than being active hunters it’s now about their presence deterring rodents,” says Nocera. These days, they can kick back and relax – focusing on bonding with employees and visitors, instead.

Read more on New York travel:

Other Hard Hat Cats successes include Five Boroughs Brewing’s Amor, who made the transition from working moggy to much-loved pet after being adopted by an employee; Oreo, who resides at the plush Stamford Suites Hotel; and Elizabeth, a male, one-eyed cat at Torch & Crown Brewing, which even named a beer in his honour.

Evil Twin Brewing cat has its own resident moggy
— (Tamara Hinson)

At Brooklyn’s Evil Twin Brewing, I meet Marlon (find him @marlonquest), who’s gone one better and had several ales named after him, plus is the star of the brewery’s beautiful mural. Marlon’s unusual in that he’s owned by a local family, not the brewery. Like Marlon, his owners are regulars, and are proud of his role as brewery cat.

These days, the cats can kick back and relax – focusing on bonding with employees and visitors
— Aline Nocera

Other cats are honoured in different ways. At Brooklyn’s Grimm Artisanal Ales, Simcoe, who was named after a hop varietal and appears on merchandise, was adopted from a nearby shelter. The owners wanted to honour the tradition of brewery cats. “She’s a people cat – she’s happy to be petted,” says operations manager Aiyana Knauer. “But she’s bold – she’ll kill rats if they appear.” Her rat-catching skills also benefit the wider community. “She patrols nearby streets, too – she’ll kill rats, bring them back and leave them under the fermenters.”

Her popularity with customers rocketed during the pandemic. “Before Covid she’d hang out in the office, but when the brewery closed she had free rein. Then things opened up and, as the saying goes, you can’t put the cat back in the bag! Now people come just to see her. Pest control comes secondary to social duties.”

Gasket is the most popular member of the team at Bronx Brewery
— (Tamara Hinson)

At the Bronx Brewery’s taproom, Levi Felder Jr, the brewery’s graphic designer, introduces me to Gasket (@gasketthebrewerycat), a one-year-old former stray who arrived after tumbling into the brewing room from a rafter. Although yet to hone his rat-catching skills, the future’s looking bright for Gasket, who’s a huge hit with both visitors and employees.

“He gives people a huge dopamine boost,” says Felder, who believes brewery cats are enjoying their best lives right now. “After I made Gasket’s Instagram I realised how many other working cats there are – an entire community.” And Gasket’s happiness comes first. “We have a Gasket council, and regular meetings about his needs. We’re not tapping into his marketing potential just yet.”

Levi and Gasket make the ultimate human-cat team
— (Tamara Hinson)

Back at the Algonquin, I find Hamlet the Eighth surveying his territory from a cushioned platform, positioned so he’s at eye level with guests. I learn that he owes his presence to the late actor John Barrymore, Drew Barrymore’s grandfather. Rumour has it that Barrymore, starring in Hamlet at the time, enjoyed some post-show drinks before staggering back to the Algonquin, scooping up a stray on the way that he presented to the hotel. The cat stayed, and the tradition was born. Hamlet’s predecessors include seven other Hamlets and three Matildas, adopted from a shelter.

“They’ve all been warm, welcoming and sweet,” says manager Willis Loughhead, who reveals that the hotel’s Instagram has 5,000 followers, while the Algonquin cat’s has 20,000. Which just leaves one problem: those pandemic pounds. “I’d love to get him on the hotel’s treadmill, but his preferred exercise is rolling over for belly rubs...” And who can blame him?

Hamlet the Eighth is one in a long line of Algonquin cats
— (Marriott Hotels)

Travel essentials

Getting there

Return flights from London Stansted to New York Stewart International with Play from £336.

Staying there

Stay at the Algonquin Hotel Times Square, Autograph Collection for a chance to hang out with Hamlet the Eighth;

Read more of our best affordable New York hotel reviews

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