So, a cat walked into a bar ...

Meet the fuzziest new regular at Atlanta’s Manuel’s Tavern, and he won’t stay away
Archer, a 4-year-old cat who haunts the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, has become a regular at Manuel's Tavern since he first sauntered into the Atlanta bar nearly two years ago. Photos by Olivia Bowdoin for the AJC

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

Archer, a 4-year-old cat who haunts the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, has become a regular at Manuel's Tavern since he first sauntered into the Atlanta bar nearly two years ago. Photos by Olivia Bowdoin for the AJC

No one, not even the boss, greets every day with a smile. Some mornings Brian Maloof trudges out the door, knowing another day in the uncertain life of a bar owner/restaurateur awaits. Will everyone show up on time? What about deliveries? Will any pesky health inspectors come by?

The windows at Manuel’s Tavern, the Atlanta landmark he owns, are dark when he wheels into the parking lot. It’s 3:45 a.m.

Then, Maloof sees a movement in the shadows. He stops. A figure approaches.


“When I come in in the morning, and I see Archer waiting for me, it makes my day,” Maloof said. “It really does.”

Archer, dear reader, is a cat.

In the past 18 months or so he’s become such a regular at the North Highland Avenue bar and restaurant that Maloof has had to post signs urging patrons not to let Archer inside. Cats aren’t supposed to jump up on bars or tables where people pay to drink and eat. (Those pesky health inspectors might be lurking, too).

Archer ignores the signs. He won’t stay away. He’s the head waiting to be petted, the back that needs a stroke, the furry ears that like a scratch.

The 4-year-old cat has Maloof and others wrapped around his big, fuzzy paws.

“I let him come upstairs to my office” in the early hours before Manuel’s opens, Maloof said recently. Like other visitors to Manuel’s, Archer kicks back and takes a good, long drink – of water – then turns his gaze to the TV. “He watches Cat TV. His favorite show is ‘Strings,’” Maloof said.

(Yes, there is a YouTube channel devoted to cats, and it does have a show where strings are the stars. “Chipmunks” is another Archer fave).

“He’s trained me,” Maloof said.

Archer, a 4-year-old neighborhood cat who haunts Poncey-Highland, has become a regular at Manuel's Tavern since showing up at the bar about 18 months ago. Photos by Olivia Bowdoin for the AJC

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

And won over a legion of fans in the process.

“He’s the cutest problem I’ve ever had to deal with,” said bartender Laura Dotson. “If it wasn’t a health code issue, we’d have him in here all the time.”

‘Meet Archer!’

Archer is a tortoiseshell tabby, an affable swirl of brown and white and gray. He hasn’t missed many meals.

He’s a member of Felis catus – a housecat. If he were grouped into something more specific, Archer would probably be Felis catus taverna – bar cat. (This is not a real category, but it should be).

In some parts of the world, bar cats are as prevalent as barflies. Some hang out in taverns just because they can; try asking them to leave. Others earn their keep; ask any rat.

Consider The Bag of Nails, a pub in Bristol, England. If you’re allergic to cat hair, stay away. The joint has boasted as many as 15 Felis catus tavernae.

Closer to home is New York’s Algonquin Hotel, whose bar is now on its eighth cat – Hamlet, who took over a perch formerly occupied by a furry beauty named Matilda.

There’s no telling how many taverns leave a bowl of kibble out back for whatever feline wanders by. Some are bound to stay.

That’s pretty much what happened at Manuel’s.

“Meet Archer, the new parking lot attendant of Manuel’s Tavern!” the restaurant said in a social media post when Archer started showing up. “He belongs to one of these houses around the corner, but has recently started wandering to the tavern; guess our fish Friday specials are a little too alluring!”

“He’s smart,” said Maloof, whose family has been serving suds and other delectables at Manuel’s since 1956. “He knows I’m a soft touch. My wife, my daughter who works here, they’re a soft touch, too.”

Archer is known for making himself at home at Manuel's. On a recent day, he felt free to wander into the manager's office and sit on the desk, where a portrait of Manuel Maloof, the original owner of the iconic Atlanta bar, appeared to grant approval.

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

For the record, that’s Margie and Megan Maloof, mother and daughter. On a recent morning, Margie Maloof sat outside the tavern, greeting lunch-goers. Archer sat in her arms, blinking in the sun. His tail curled like a fluffy question mark: Pet me?

“Everybody loves him,” the Manuel’s matriarch said.

People like Andrey Goerdt, who stopped by Manuel’s to take a little time from his job as a carpenter and project manager.

“Archer just comes here, regardless of what anybody says he can do,” said Goerdt. “He likes having his back scratched. He knows that he runs this place.”

Goerdt sat at an outdoor table. He unrolled a blueprint to study.

A shadow fell across the blueprint. Goerdt looked up. Archer. Goerdt scratched his ears. Archer beamed, as only a cat can. Flop! He rolled over on the blueprint.

“Hmmph,” said Goerdt. “That’s it for looking at the blueprint.”

Consoling the lonely

Acher was barely grown when the cat door called. Carson Starnes noticed that the tricolored creature he and his wife, Allison, got from an animal shelter sometimes came home smelling of smoke. It must have been sitting by someone’s fireplace.

“We got the impression that he liked hanging out with others,” said Starnes. He made sure Archer wore a collar with a tag featuring his phone number and address.

Archer passed his wayward ways on to his sister, Eleanor, who came from the shelter, too. Sometimes she accompanies her brother to Manuel’s, about two blocks away from their home in Poncey-Highlands. More often, they leg it across the street to a house where a dog door opens with a gentle head-butt.

But Eleanor generally sticks close to home. Archer? Like his namesake, the animated TV agent Sterling Archer, the cat gets around.

Starnes recalls the morning a stranger brought his restless cat home, a guy who had been out late the night before, hitting the bars, looking for love or something that passed for it. He struck out, but didn’t end up entirely alone. Dogging his steps on the way back was Archer the cat.

When the guy brought Archer home, Starnes recalled, his furry buddy “smelled like men’s cologne.”

Starnes knows that not everyone thinks it’s OK for Archer to roam. There are coyotes and dogs about. Wandering cats pose a threat to songbirds, too. Sometimes, Starnes gets calls from animal lovers who got his number off the tag on Archer’s collar. They aren’t friendly calls.

To his critics, Starnes notes that Archer nearly died a couple of years ago when he contracted feline infectious peritonitis, or FIP. It’s considered just about 100% fatal to cats. But Archer was treated and survived.

“He wants to take risks,” said Starnes. “He’s already survived a near-death experience.”

Manuel's owners have posted signs outside the bar urging patrons not to let Archer inside, but the clever cat always seems to find a way.

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

‘Keep coming back’

Here’s the thing about a cat. It sets its own hours. It will not be bullied or cajoled. Appealing to its sense of fair play is useless; it doesn’t have one.

Ingrid Johnson knows. A certified cat behavior specialist, the Atlanta resident has devoted decades to her study of all things feline. Is Fluffy hissing for no reason? Johnson’s website,, can tell you why. She had a simple diagnosis for his Manuel’s visits.

“He’s going into a restaurant, for God’s sake,” said Johnson. “Food! Cheese! Snacks!”

Though Archer has been tossed out (gently) from the tavern’s dining rooms, he surely recalls moments when someone offered him a chunk of chicken, or slid a bit of burger his way. If he occasionally still gets a treat, said Johnson, Archer will be as the moth to the flame.

“He never knows when the rewards will come,” said Johnson, who shares her Grant Park home with Soren, Finn, Tonka, Tank, Satu and Ember, as well as Sven the rescue Great Pyrenees (and a husband). “He will keep coming back.”

And Manuel’s will be waiting.

Archer enjoys the special treatment at Manuel's, where the owners have named him the honorary parking lot attendant, although he'd rather keep watch from inside.

Credit: Olivia Bowdoin

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Credit: Olivia Bowdoin