The Cats Restaurant and Tavern in Los Gatos may be famous for having the best BBQ rub on the planet, but they just may become famous for a whole lot more. From the incredible décor to talented live entertainment to friendly staffing to some of the best customer service end great tasting food – The Cats owners of three (Mark Edwards, David Peterson and a silent partner) seem to have pretty much nailed it. And that says a lot when folks are looking for more than just darn good BBQ.
The BBQ atmosphere took shape around the mid-1960s, however, the famous BBQ rub that The Cats owners incorporated into the renovations of this historic venue is indeed the best rub tasting rub on the planet; the rub they use is made by Paul Kirk out of Kansas City (known as “The Baron of BBQ”) – in fact, Kirk himself certifies every cook so that they can work their magic with Kirk’s award-winning (over 475 awards and seven world BBQ champion titles), so this is indeed a BBQ rub that will continue to keep this place among the local’s top five places to eat, dance, drink and gather.
And here they are nearing the end of their third quarter and The Cats owners are thrilled to still see an almost full house on any given day; in fact, according to Edwards, they are working on the improvement of food delivery and capacity – until then he is doing the best he can with ensuring no one goes hungry. Edwards said he enjoys seeing folks from local and afar that stop in to say hello. “We appear to be getting around,” said Edwards.
From the recreation of an atmosphere mirroring the old west from the 1800s such as old boardwalks that people used to walk from saloon to saloon on; the wood used are 112 year old boards from Santa Cruz Mountain water tanks provided by Dave Guardino; the wagon wheels are from an authentic Wells Fargo Stage Coach, and according to Edwards, the redwood used on the siding was actually milled onsite.
The original Los Gatos cats are still on the premises – looking the same as they did back when Diane Ogilvie owned it, although it was the original owners who had the two large Cats designed (near the entrance, by the iron gates) by a sculptor out of New York, Robert Paine. The original owners, Charles Erskie Scott Wood and poet Sara Bard Field bought 34 acres in 1919 with the intention of building a “castle in the sky” – a place where they could write without visitors. The house was custom-built and a small vineyard was planted below; giant wine casks were placed at the bottom of the road (which many Bay Area folks remember seeing as they drove by) as a protest to prohibition.
The interior is incredibly true to form with a cook who’s definitely mastered magic on an antique stove in the grill area. Hanging above the bar is a stage showcasing more historical wonders such as an old mural of the town of Alma (now buried beneath the Lexington Reservoir), surrounded by what Edwards claimed a San Jose museum find from one of the oldest courthouses in San Jose. With saddles from the early 1900s made into bar stools, the entire interior lined with spurs, ropes, bridals and western artifacts it truly adds to the experience.
There is even a moose head hanging over the bar that is not just another hunter’s trophy – he is a hero, a hero of two in fact, saving the lives of two dear friends when the cold weather was extreme and the moose provided warmth. Folks can ask Edwards about that story the next time they are visiting and he’ll be glad to fill them in on the rest of the story. The history truly is incredible as are the artifacts, history and stories that everyone holds – a place to eat, drink, gather with friends and be merry – the kind of feel-good place that folks seek in any economy.
The owners truly did an incredible job with the décor, sparing no expense and far surpassing anyone’s expectations. From the exterior to interior to the finer touches that perhaps only a lady would notice such as a fresh rose on every table – so even in the west there was a touch of class and romance.
The upstairs banquet room was equally impressive with redwood siding and teak flooring – and more impressive was the “Louis the XIV Bar,” named after what Edwards called the 300 year old “Louis the XIV bed frame” that they had custom designed for that particular bar area; the museum-quality canopy-style mirrored ceiling piece was exquisite – incredibly designed. And no doubt the first bed I’d ever seen that make me think of nothing but a martini.
So you’re probably wondering what we had to eat so I’ll leave you to guess no longer; as a gracious starter on-the-house, we were given a choice that our server Austin and his beautiful sidekick recommended, the starter combo which was a mouthwatering goodness trio of fried onion strings, fried mushrooms and spicy buffalo wings – which would have actually been plenty for me alone but my friend, Mike, treated us to dinner as well so we added the chicken and rib combo, half-and-half spicy and honey sauce, that comes with a salad – and let me tell you the only way to describe the food we had was simply, “to die for.” But we obviously lived to tell y’all how good it was.
The live entertainment varies throughout the week and weekend with Country & Western and dancing on the weekends, to jazz to various other very talented entertainments, including Joe Ferrara, who also plays at the Shadowbrook Restaurant in Capitola.
Edwards had replicas of the signature cats that sit at the entrance near the iron gates made just for the signage above the entrance to the restaurant at the end of the boardwalk, adding the final touches – and according to Edwards, people may not realize that “The Cats” was not named after Los Gatos, but actually because the original owners liked the image of cats.
Edwards said the owner previous to him and his partners was Diane Ogilvie, who was a Rockette, real estate tycoon and very talented entertainer – and who unfortunately recently passed away at the young age of 92 on October 3, 2011. Edwards said she was a very dear friend but was thrilled the tradition of The Cats would be carried on.
For the country and western fans out there, the weekends are alive with all sorts of dancing and live entertainment, including that awesome BBQ before so head on over to Cats Restaurant and Tavern and enjoy one of their many claims to fame – the best BBQ rub on the planet, and have yourself a real good time. There’s also plenty of other music aside from country and western with plenty of other musicians playing so be sure to check the calendar and see who’s playing – you just might be surprised. After dinner mosey on over to the bar area and continue on for a grand ole time in a place that’s far enough away to feel like you’re on vacation but close enough to home to stay out of trouble. Well, one can hope anyway. I can see that The Cats is going to be famous for a lot more than its BBQ rub.
Ah yes, and for those who are worried about driving down that small stretch of Highway 880/17 – no worries, The Cats has you covered. If having the best BBQ rub on the planet isn’t enough – they offer a free shuttle service from the parking lot across from the Toll House in downtown Los Gatos beginning at 5 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays every 25 minutes until midnight (which is why it received the fifth star, actually), so now there’s absolutely no excuse, folks.
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Family-friendly restaurant, The Cats, is located at 17533 Santa Cruz Highway, Los Gatos, CA 95030. For additional information visit the website or call 408-354-4020. A special tip from Edwards: If you “like” The Cats on Facebook, you get a free “Cowboy Chip Platter” so check them out on Facebook also.
Country & Western dancing and live entertainment on the weekends (according to Edwards they have teamed up with KRTY), with free shuttle service. Visit the website for more entertainment by all sorts of extremely talented folks and for additional information. Also, check out BBQ classes by Paul Kirk at The Cats; additional information available on The Cats’ Facebook page.
Open Tuesday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Remember, free shuttle service from the parking lot across from the Toll House in downtown Los Gatos every 25 minutes on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5 p.m. until midnight, which is perfect for those who don’t want to drive or fight the traffic on Highway 880/17.
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