Hotel cats

Something of a tradition of having a resident cat has developed in various hotels around the world. Although initially, these may have helped with rodent control, the presence of a cat today essentially brings a homely feel to the hotel, and so may serve to attract guests. The Algonquin Hotel, located at 59 West 44th Street in Manhattan, NY has a long-standing reputation, both as a venue for literary gatherings and also for its feline residents.

The first official hotel cat was a tortoiseshell called Rusty, who moved into the hotel during the 1920s and enchanted the guests, reputedly drinking milk out of a champagne glass. The special cat door constructed for Rusty can still be seen today at the hotel, having been used by subsequent feline residents. They traditionally sleep on a small chaise longue just inside the hotel's entrance.

Rusty's replacement was a blue and white tabby, who simply wandered in off the streets, and was allowed to stay by the general manager and owner Frank Case. This cat became known as Hamlet, a theatrical name suggested by the actor John Barrymore, who was a frequent visitor to the hotel.

Curiosity killed the cat!

It was reputedly during Hamlet's time at the Algonquin that one of the famous expressions about cats has its Algonquin hotelorigins. The writer and socialite Dorothy Parker was asked how to kill a cat, she replied “Try curiosity”, which has since become transposed into “Curiosity killed the cat”, reflecting the way in which cats will investigate new things in their surroundings.

Female cats at the Algonquin (see above, © Christinahle) have traditionally been called Maltida. During the 1990s, the role of resident feline was filled by a stray. Unfortunately, in a sign that times change, she suffered the indignity of being mugged for her distinctive collar, but was otherwise unaffected by this unpleasant experience.

The present resident of the Algonquin is a illustrious pure-bred Ragdoll, one of the most docile of all breeds, who assumed the post in 1997. The first pedigree cat to hold this post, she received the Cat of the Year award in 2006 and has built up a considerable worldwide fan base. In the modern age, she receives emails from around the world, and always closes her replies with the immortal words “Have a purrfect day”.

Journeying to London

In London too, hotel cats were not unknown. One of the most notorious was Tiger, who lived at the Ritz Hotel in London's Piccadilly district. He was ostensibly resident to catch mice, being nicknamed “The Terror of the Ritz”, but in reality, he spent much of his time lounging around, relying on treats from guests, as well as being spoilt by kitchen staff. He became so obese that he had to be sent away on an annual holiday, in order to slim down.

Kaspar may not be a real hotel cat, but he is considered to be a very lucky one. He is to be seen at the Savoy Hotel in London (see above, © ChrisO), where he has been on display since the 1920s. He is black in colour, and was carved by the designer Basil Ionides.

Most of the time, Kaspar resides in a special display case, located opposite the gift shop, but occasionally however, he attends dinner parties at the hotel. This is because back in 1898, a South African businessman called Woolf Joel had booked a dinner for fourteen people, but one of the guests was unable to attend at the last minute. Woolf laughed at the superstition that for a party of thirteen, the first person to rise after the meal would meet an inauspicious end.

Bad luck or cursed?

Plenty of people remembered what had happened however, when a short time afterwards, having returned home, he was found shot dead. The potential for bad publicity meant that the management at the Savoy originally had a member of staff increasing the numbers, when a booking for thirteen was received. It was not ideal however, and so they then came up with the enlightened solution of making Kaspar the honorary fourteenth guest.

No-one objected to him being present, particularly since he could be relied upon to be completely discrete. He is seated at the table, with the cutlery for each course laid out in front of him, and a napkin tied around his neck. But this is not to say that Kaspar has not had something of an adventurous life - he was once kidnapped by a group of Royal Air Force personnel and his release was negotiated by one of Britain's greatest Prime Ministers, Winston Churchill, who valued his company as a dinner guest.