At my neighborhood brewery, there is someone I look for first. I’ve been guilty of missing a greeting from the bartender because I’m adamant to find her. Sometimes she’s right there by the door ready to greet folks, other times she’s in the brewhouse supervising work, and sometimes she can be found sprawled across a table snoozing on the job.
Her name is Simcoe and she is a tuxedo cat with a snaggletooth and a habit of trying to con patrons out of their cheese, and maybe a little salami (as a treat). She lives and works at Grimm Artisanal Ales in East Williamsburg.
The “working cat” is no anomaly in NYC. Warehouse cats, shop cats, garden cats, and most famously, bodega cats are common fixtures across the city.
As it happens, breweries, with their need to store large amounts of grain—a potential snack for vermin—are a perfect match for cats looking for a place to stay. And sometimes it begins just like that–a cat wanders in and never leaves. But often breweries seek out feline workers to join their ranks.
Hard Hat Cats, a non-profit committed to pairing cats who may not be eligible for regular adoption into working situations, has provided cats to Torch & Crown Brewing, Transmitter Brewing, Kings County Distillery, and more, according to Sheila Massey, the group’s president and founder. She believes this creates a “win-win-win” situation: business owners get toxin-free pest control, workers get a furry friend, and cats get a home. Massey started with trap-neuter-return (TNR) in 2008. And after the “return” and caring for the colony, she noticed something–when the cats were cared for they stayed put. “They’re kind of opportunists,” she said. And when the cats stayed, the rats did not.
It’s no secret that NYC has a rat problem. Mayor Eric Adams has declared war on the rats with a newly appointed “rat czar”. And with an estimated 500,000 feral cats living on the streets of NYC, Massey sees a possible solution. To her what cats do best is ”rodent control and ignoring us.” Massey’s main goal with Hard Hat Cats is to save cats who otherwise might be euthanized, and her second goal is sustainability and providing toxin-free pest control. These cats are kept away from food prep areas if any exist at the brewery, and Massey tells me that although cats can be flagged by an inspector, more often than not an inspector understands the use of a fully-vaccinated and healthy cat to keep rodents away.
Hard Hat Cats works with the Animal Care Center of NYC (ACC) to place cats that are determined to be somewhere between feral and adoptable.
Cats like Elizabeth, Victoria, and April now live and work at Torch & Crown Brewing’s Bronx production facility. These cats were rescued from a hoarding situation and closely bonded, but determined to be unadoptable in the shelter. Their placement at Torch & Crown gave them the space they needed to open up. Now all three thrive. Elizabeth, who is actually a male cat, is described by Megan Wilson, COO of Torch & Crown, as “basically a dog.” Victoria is “the quintessential lazy cat” and April is “the intrepid explorer.” When asked about how well they do their job of pest control, Wilson tells me that their mere presence does the trick. “(A cat) could be the worst hunter in the world and still do its job,” she says.
Some cats choose the beer life all on their own. Gasket, a brown tabby cat, was found as a tiny kitten in the alleyway next to Bronx Brewery. Due to his young age he “currently has no job at the moment other than bringing joy to all who cross his path” says Levi Felder Jr., the written content & graphic designer at Bronx Brewery. On Gasket’s designated Instagram page, he’s described as an intern. At under a year old, Gasket still needs time to develop his prowess but currently, he provides, as Felder says, “much-needed dopamine release for all.”
Another cat who chose the brewery life was Marlon, who can be found at Evil Twin in Ridgewood. But Marlon is no stray—he has a family. During the early days of the COVID-19 shutdown, Marlon started wandering over to Evil Twin. “It really was a huge blessing to have him around during that time. He brought everyone so much joy,” remembers Caroline Lethbridge, Evil Twin NYC Brand Manager. According to Marissa Marco, his owner, he proved his worth by leaving a dead mouse in the boots of the head brewer. Marco notes that he has always been an exceptionally social cat. “When he was a kitten, we used to have a lot of house parties and I think he got used to the music and chaos of a good party,” she says.
Currently, Marlon has made quite the imprint on Evil Twin. He’s featured in a mural that greets visitors as they walk up to the taproom and has graced the can art of many beers. Lethbridge insists that “He’s always been destined for fame,” and Marco agrees. In fact, as a kitten at the ACC, he was featured in the 2012 broadcast of the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl and Kitten Half-Time Show.
Simcoe, who was rescued from Sean Casey Animal Rescue, is the star of Grimm’s merch, her face plastered on T-shirts, stickers, and sweatshirts. Grimm’s Operations and Distribution Manager, Aiyana Knauer tells me that “a lot of people come to the brewery to see her.” As we talk, Simcoe herself sprawls out in front of the merch display while a customer surveys it. Naturally, he picks the shirt with her face on it.
But Simcoe’s job doesn’t only consist of moving merchandise and being “the brewery mascot,” as Knauer calls her. She wears many hats. "Her main duty is supervising the taproom … greeting people, making sure packages get delivered properly, and then hunting rats,” Knauer says. Simcoe has done such a good job at keeping her workplace free of pests that she patrols up and down Metropolitan Avenue looking for more prey.
These cats have become a part of the beer culture of NYC, many more breweries in the city and beyond have cats patrolling their space. And it’s in their nature. Cats have been helping humans with pest control for centuries. Massey entirely credits the cats with their own accomplishments.
As she says, “They were savvy, self-aware and knew that beer was in their future.”