'The best to ever do it': Austin mourns death of Kitty Cohen's beloved bar cat, Hank
When Hank, a brown, black and gray tabby cat, first started coming around Kitty Cohen's, he'd drink out of the East Austin bar's small, kidney-shaped swimming pool.
The pool was, of course, chlorinated. But Hank kept coming back. Eventually, bar employees started to leave out food and water for the cat. Soon enough, he became a regular, curling up on the banquettes inside, posing for photos with bachelorette parties and walking along the backyard fence that surrounds the popular nightlife spot.
"He was such a fixture. It was like he was a part of Kitty's," said Jessica Dawn, who co-owns the bar with her husband, Jeremy Murray.
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Hank was killed on April 2 by a passing car on Webberville Road, where the bar is located. The motorist drove away, Dawn said.
It happened sometime between 8 and 9 p.m., and another driver stopped to pick the cat up. That driver ran Hank over to the bar and said they needed to get the cat to the vet, Dawn said.
The door man "didn't even know it was Hank at first, and then was like, 'Oh my god, that's our cat,'" Dawn said.
Hank died before they could get him to a vet.
Since then, Kitty Cohen's has received an outpouring of community support online and at the bar.
A street cat
Hank started visiting the bar in fall 2019. He was a feral animal who, at first, didn't really want people in the neighborhood to pet him, Dawn said.
A neighbor who lived two houses down from the bar stopped by and said they were also feeding the cat. But a few weeks later, that neighbor moved to Colorado.
"Oh, OK, I guess Hank is our cat now," Dawn remembered saying.
She added, "We started feeding him, and he started getting a little friendlier. We just fell in love with him."
The bar's general manager, Jonathan Faulkner, took Hank to the vet to get him neutered. The cat got a name, a bed and his own Instagram page. He was named after the writer Charles Bukowski, a notorious barfly.
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Hank could go days without a visit to the bar, which he liked to do at night. Other times, he'd lounge on the counter when he was allowed, Dawn said.
"He really was a community cat," she said. "Especially in our neighborhood over there, everyone knew who he was. He was at Kitty's mostly, but some of our staff lives down the street, and they would be sitting in the living room and see Hank in the backyard. He was a street cat."
Even with the street in him, cats get cold. Hank already had a bed at the bar for chilly weather, but ahead of the freeze in February 2021, he got quite the upgrade: an A-frame cat condo with white and mint green stripes on the outside. The house took some getting used to, but Hank eventually came around.
Faulkner ended up bringing Hank home during the freeze because of how bad it got.
"Hank was just so depressed. He hated it," Dawn said. "But if anything happened to him, we'd be so upset.
"You can take the cat out of the street, but you can't take the street out of the cat."
The road where Hank was killed has been worrisome for the Kitty Cohen's team.
"We're already trying to figure out ways to possibly have them put in speed bumps for Webberville (Road), because we really feel like this probably wouldn't have happened if people weren't blazing down it at 50, 60 miles per hour," Dawn said.
Dawn said they called Austin 3-1-1 to make a report about the hit-and-run that killed Hank, and while speed bumps aren't always popular, she doesn't think installing at least one on Webberville Road would be so bad.
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"We worried about him. We thought, 'Oh my gosh, it's such a busy road, Webberville.' I'm even scared if I park on the other side of the road over there. Cars fly through it," Dawn said.
Hank's Instagram page will likely stay up and could become a space where they advocate for street safety, Dawn said.
Tuna, flowers and a cigar
A votive candle and incense now sit outside Hank's house. Someone came to light them Wednesday evening, as the sun started to hang low.
Three cans of Starkist tuna, one big and two small, were lined up, too. A beer opener, a cigar and a lighter sat among the pink, white, red and yellow flowers left around the teensy, tiny house. A photo of Hank hung snug above the house's door frame.
Hank's house, which is near the water jugs outside at Kitty Cohen's, became a memorial for the cat when Faulkner laid flowers near it after the cat died.
Throughout the evening on Wednesday, people brought more flowers. Others stopped to look at the memorial.
"Customers are different. You know, we have regulars that come in, and they don't really talk to anybody. But they just come and grab a drink, and they would sit at a table and just be with Hank in their own way," Dawn said. "It was special for us to see the different connection that everyone had with him."
People left tributes in the comments of Hank's Instagram after news of his death.
One said: "How devastating. The Instagram updates of Hank brought me so much joy and I know that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the happiness he brought to you all and everyone else. Sending you all a lot of love and happy memories."
Another said Hank was the "best to ever do it."
On Kitty Cohen's Instagram post about Hank's death, a commenter said they planned to cherish the last belly rubs they gave to the cat.
Hank's memory will live on at the bar via a new drink called Hank's Muse, made with Patron tequila. Dawn said they are also figuring out what to do with Hank's paw print and his remains after he's cremated.
"I feel like Jon and all of us will want him to be there, because that's where Hank would want to be," Dawn said.
Though he's gone now, Dawn remembers that Hank showed up right when Kitty Cohen's needed him.
In March 2020, the bar shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Employees would stop by to check on the bar and the cat.
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"That's why we called him the 'emotional bar cat,' because he was there during a hard time for the bar," Dawn said.
Employees took ownership of Hank in those beginning weeks of isolation and scary news. They were able to focus their attention on Hank instead. Once the bar opened up to customers again, it was clear Hank was there for the long haul.
"I think people felt like, 'Oh this is Kitty's cat. This is part of who they are,'" Dawn said.
Dawn said they've considered, even before Hank died, adopting a cat from a local shelter.
But she said other street cats have been spotted in the neighborhood.
"We're wondering if, maybe, we'll get lucky enough to have another animal choose us," Dawn said.