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Thursday, April 16, 2009

San Francisco Bar's Fat Cat Mascot Enjoying the Good Life After Nearly Drowning in Hurricane Katrina

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Mr. Higgins
  • Mr. Higgins
When the lunchtime crowd filters into SoMa's Eddie Rickenbacker's, the establishment's de-facto maître d', Mr. Higgins, makes sure to walk around to every table and socialize. Then he falls asleep on the couch.

Snoozing during work hours is usually a firing offense, but Mr. Higgins' job is safe. Twenty or 30 people a day walk through the door just to enjoy the pleasure of his company and bar owner Henry Africa assures SF Weekly that Mr. Higgins' isn't going anywhere -- after all, he loves that cat.

The orange tomcat -- who weighs in at a floorboard-creaking 27 pounds -- didn't always have it so soft. Four years ago he was running wild through the fetid, water-logged streets of New Orleans, half-starved and half-alive -- with fleas and ticks accounting for around half of his body mass.

Airline workers captured around 200 cats who were scurrying around the Big Easy-- including Mr. Higgins -- and shipped them to a woman living in Nashville. And when Africa stumbled across the bedraggled orange cat's online profile, he phoned Tennessee and bought Mr. Higgins on the spot for $200. The woman told Africa that Mr. Higgins had a brother, and Africa bought him, too.

Mr. Higgins' days as unofficial greeter for Eddie Rickenbacker's weren't quite ready to start. Africa had bought a big rig truck at an auction on a whim while hunting for more antique motorcycles to suspend from the roof of his bar ("Can't turn down a deal").

Africa began using the big rig to haul loads of frozen fish from Boston to San Francisco -- "I do things like that all the time" -- and Mr. Higgins and brother Maxie came along for the ride. Eventually, the bar owner decided his truck-driving days were done, and sold off the rig.But the truck's buyer stubbornly insisted that the cats come with him. Africa disagreed and a fistfight ensued. The bar owner -- who is 75 -- came out worse for wear. But an agreement was hastily cobbled between the warring parties. The buyer took Maxie and the truck. Africa took Mr. Higgins and returned to his bar.

It seems that Mr. Higgins has found his calling. "He's one of the few cats I've ever had that really likes people," notes his owner.

Incidentally, if you're wondering, no you can't have a pet cat in a bar in San Francisco -- but Mr. Higgins has a knack for pulling a disappearing act when the health inspectors drop by. Africa did get caught once -- and fined $200 -- but he doesn't have any plans to leave the cat at home in the future. Besides, if Mr. Higgins is drawing customers into the establishment, it may be worth risking the fine.

Africa can't argue with that, but quickly adds, "Hey, I love him, too."   

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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