Willie relaxes in his natural habitat- the Eclipse porch. We’re sharing this feature on the cats of Eclipse in light of Willie’s death on Dec. 7. You can read his obituary from the Eclipse staff here.

Nestled on the outskirts of town, Eclipse Coffee & Books has long been a hotspot for college activity. In addition to offering milkshakes that have been voted the best in Birmingham, Eclipse hosts a full slate of concerts and events that are free to the public.

The establishment’s cozy environment, replete with comfortable seating and small, bookshelf-lined rooms, creates an atmosphere in which students can relax, mingle or study. In addition, Eclipse possesses a unique attractiveness apart from its menu, event schedule and interior design—cats.

Visitors who choose to dine on the porch may have noticed several cats roaming around, making themselves cozy against the porch railing or perhaps begging for food. No, they’re not cats who have wandered away from their plush suburban yards to swipe a snack or two from customers. Instead, they have chosen to make their home on Eclipse’s premises.

So, how exactly does a restaurant become the residence of a group of sociable cats? To answer that, we have to go back to the first Eclipse cat—Bighead. When Michael Patton speaks about Bighead, it is as if he’s talking about an old friend.

“Bighead was here when we got here,” Patton explained. “He was wild and obviously a fighter. His ears got all torn up; he’d come in with cuts and scratches.”

This first meeting occurred in 1999, two years before the establishment’s opening, when the Pattons had first purchased the land that would eventually house Eclipse Coffee & Books. After some time, Patton, a longtime professor of philosophy at the University, and his wife Cheryl, who runs the restaurant, were able to catch the cat and take him to the vet. Bighead’s life took a turn for the better.

“He went from being a fighter to being a lover. He was always up on the porch and would come sit on people’s tables and laps, and people started giving him food.”

In addition, there were several wild cats who lived in the general area. One cat, who came to be known as Mom Cat, started bringing her litters of kittens to Eclipse when they were old enough to survive without her. The Pattons placed several of the cats in homes, but there were always a number of cats who preferred to stay at the restaurant.

“What we have are the survivors of Mom Cat’s offspring,” Patton said. Survivors, because many of Mom Cat’s kittens died on the road while they were still young. Now there are about four cats that live at Eclipse—Sillyhead, Willie, F3 and Doppelganger.

Eclipse cat: Sillyhead

Sillyhead, a bit of a sleepy head, scouts his surroundings from the Eclipse porch.

Each of the cats has a distinct personality. Sillyhead, a grey cat with white fur on his chin, likes to sleep late. “Sillyhead sleeps until about 11:00 most days,” Patton said. “The other cats are up at dawn.” He’s not too fond of cuddling, although he enjoys being petted as he walks past.

Willie, on the other hand, is more than happy to hop into patrons’ laps and is likely to stay there until the customer is ready to get up. This orange cat can also be found waiting for a chance to slip into Eclipse’s side door despite knowing that he will be promptly returned to the porch.

F3 is sort of a mother figure. She has taken it upon herself to ensure that the other cats get fed and will walk in circles around Eclipse workers’ feet until they put out fresh cat food. If the other cats don’t notice that the food is out, F3 (the “F” stands for “Fuzzhead”) will let them know that their breakfast is ready, even if this means disturbing Sillyhead’s beauty rest.

The last “regular,” Doppelganger, is not typically found on the porch, although visitors can probably catch a glimpse of this black cat in the parking lot. “He came in completely wild,” Patton explained, noting that this cat does not typically allow people to get near him.

“He got really sick one time and curled up outside the back door,” Patton began with a smile. “I thought that was really sweet. He knew that we would take care of him. We thought that would make him like us, but we let him go and he went right back to being himself,” he concluded, laughing.

One cat noticeably absent from this lineup is Bighead. Bighead passed away earlier this year—an event that did not go unnoticed by Eclipse patrons. People came to the small funeral that was held on Eclipse’s premises and one person even went to see the cat at the vet so he could say goodbye before the cat was put down.

“He was never happier than when attention was being paid to him,” Patton recalled. The reaction to Bighead’s passing makes it clear that the Eclipse cats have garnered the love of the Montevallo community.

The cats at Eclipse are not visitors, nor are they just another part of Eclipse’s quirky-cute décor. Instead, some would argue that they are part of the community. These cats possess a sheer magnetism that makes them nearly impossible to ignore

Patton noted that he often sits in his wife’s office and has noticed that when people walk up and see one of the cats, they’ll stop to scratch them a couple of times before heading into the restaurant. “It seems like people are drawn to them—even people who are setting foot on the porch for the first time,” Patton said.