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Patrick Roberts

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Working Felines: Hotel Cats 2


Kaspar

Savoy Hotel
London

Kaspar, renowned 'fourteenth guest' of the Savoy Hotel, London

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The story goes that in 1898 a South African diamond magnate by the name of Woolf Joel was visiting London and held a banquet at the famous Savoy Hotel before returning home. At the last minute one of his guests had to cancel, leaving thirteen to sit at table, which one guest said was unlucky. After a successful dinner, Joel said his goodbyes and rose to leave; the same guest then said that the first person to leave would also be unlucky and would be the first to die. Joel was not superstitious and thought this remark very amusing — but a few weeks later he was shot dead in his Johannesburg office.

Kaspar in his display case at the Savoy Kaspar at the entrance of the Savoy Hotel, London For some years after those events, anxious to avoid a similar incident that could damage their reputation, the Savoy provided a member of the hotel staff to sit at tables of thirteen, to avoid the unlucky number, but the idea proved unpopular with guests wanting to talk about personal or private matters; so in 1926 a new solution was found. British architect and sculptor Basil Ionides was commissioned to design and carve a two-foot-high model of a black cat, which he produced from a single piece of London plane.

Named Kaspar, for many years the cat resided in his own display case in the hotel foyer, except when needed for 'dinner duty' (see below). Following an extensive and expensive restoration — costing 220 million, or about 350 million US dollars at the time — that took almost three years, the Savoy Hotel reopened on 10-10-2010 and Kaspar returned to a place in the foyer from where he greets arriving guests. He has resumed his duties as a fourteenth guest when requested, in particular in the famous Savoy Grill restaurant.

Kaspar awaits a party of diners Whenever a party of thirteen requests an extra guest to avoid the unlucky thirteen, he is brought to sit at table, has a napkin tied around his neck and is served every course, just like any other guest. Winston Churchill became very fond of Kaspar, to the extent that he insisted the cat should be present at every meeting of The Other Club, a political dining club he had founded in 1911, and so Kaspar has been at all the fortnightly meetings — always held at the Savoy — since 1927. (When, during World War 2, Kaspar was catnapped on one occasion by some mischievous Royal Air Force personnel and flown to Singapore, it was Churchill himself who demanded the cat's immediate return!)

Kaspar has an understudy!

Kaspar's likeness used as a logo for Kaspar's Seafood Bar and Grill at the Savoy Hotel, London On 2 May 2013 the Savoy relaunched one of its restaurants as Kaspar's Seafood Bar & Grill, said to offer guests a more casual dining experience than the earlier River Restaurant. Kaspar's image is used as the restaurant's logo (left). To honour Kaspar and pay tribute to his 86 years of service, a new anamorphic sculpture was commissioned from South African artist Jonty Hurwitz, and this sculpture presides over the new venue.

The restaurant has its own website and Facebook page.


Notes

There are two theories as to the origin of the number thirteen being unlucky. One derives from Norse mythology, in which twelve Gods sat down to a banquet in Valhalla. The evil spirit Loki gatecrashed the party as thirteenth member of the party and killed the Gods' favourite, Balder. Thirteen also has significance to Christians, as there were thirteen people at the Last Supper, and the traitor Judas Iscariot was the thirteenth and last to arrive. As to why a cat — the animals have held an important role in mythology and superstition over the centuries, and black cats in particular are considered by many cultures to be lucky.

The Savoy Hotel's cat was the inspiration for Michael Morpurgo's children's story Kaspar, Prince of Cats. MM was resident writer at the Savoy for a period during 2007.

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In brief

  • In February 2009 a guest at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion Hotel in the Georgetown district of Penang, Malaysia, said in his review that the hotel had 'three delightful cats in residence'.

  • In 2007 the modest but well-reviewed two-star Hotel Excelsior on the Left Bank in Paris, France was reported to have a friendly resident cat called Rocket, who allowed himself to be picked up and photographed with guests.

  • The Anderson House, a hotel in Washaba, near Minneapolis, USA, used to welcome guests' cats, but if you hadn't brought your own and missed him, the hotel would lend you one of the fifteen named resident cats to keep you company in your room.

  • There used to be a wonderful Poussy at the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France, who would hang out in the bar, but is no more. For a little more about Poussy, and an account of his successor Carmen, see this separate page.

  • There was a famous pair of strays named Whisky and Soda at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa.

  • Norman the cat, greeter at the Bryn Howel Hotel, Llangollen, North Wales In 2002 a large ginger-and-white cat installed himself as 'meeter and greeter' at the prestigious Bryn Howel Hotel, near Llangollen in North Wales, where he would arrive each morning and greet guests as they came to the hotel. Even after late-night functions, he would be there to see people depart. He didn't go into the hotel, and it was not known where he came from, but he was very popular with staff and visitors alike. Called Norman, he gained the name 'Norman the doorman'.

  • Sabre, a Tonkinese tabby cat formerly of the Lion Hotel, Shrewsbury The historic Lion Hotel in Shrewsbury, county town of Shropshire in the UK, had a brown tabby Tonkinese called Sabre, often to be found asleep on a wing chair in the bar. He appeared in the local paper when it was reported that he had his own Twitter account. Unfortunately Sabre, who had been at the hotel for some four years, disappeared early in 2011 and, despite searching, hotel staff never found out what became of him.

  • Sam of Gervis Court Hotel, Bournemouth Black cat Sam was the much loved resident feline of the Gervis Court Hotel in the English south coast resort of Bournemouth; sadly he died in March 2012. His own web page is still available (Sep 2013), where you can read more about him and see some images.


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Our featured feline at the head of the page is Socks, pictured in 2003 surveying his 'estate' in the early morning sunshine. Affectionately known as Soxy, he blossomed from a thin and hungry stray into a substantial and handsome cat who loved life and company, and his gentle ways endeared him to many friends. He is now no longer with us, but you can read more from his human companion here.


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