For those of us who own cats, we’ve been privy to the otherwise unknown pleasures of having our favorite sweaters shredded, our bathtubs pooped in and many a lint roller packed with fur. Is it worth it? For folks lured into those little orbs of forgiveness (a.k.a cat eyes), it surely is. But for New Yorkers who love felines — and would rather not live with a miniature destructive serial killer — there could be another option. Enter the cat café.
Since the dawn of the cat café in 1998 in Taiwan, the feline phenomenon has spread over to Japan and across the world, with fur balls popping up in Malaysia, Korea, Austria, France, Spain, Germany and Hungary. Plus, a brand of new cafés just opened in London, and two more are slated to open in San Francisco and Oakland this year.
Tokyo alone has around 40 such haunts, according to the most recent counts. Cat cafés in the Japanese capital consist of (duh) cats, along with coffee or tea to sip on. Guests typically pay an hourly rate to hang out and play with the friendly felines that roam around the premises.
Most spots also emphasize caring for stray or abandoned animals, similar to animal shelters that invite volunteers to help care for kittens in need of attention. (Will there ever be a better volunteer task than playing with a kitten? Nay there will not.) Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, which opened on March 1st in London, provides a home for cats rescued by the Humane Society.
Buzz for the cat café trend amped up in New York when a sign appeared on the window of 155 Grand Street in Williamsburg back in September 2013. It read “Purrfect Strangers: NYC’s First Tokyo-Style Cat Café” and touted that “you can haz gourmet coffee and nibbles from Brooklyn artisans” plus “100% hypoallergenic cats” and DJs who “are the only ones that scratch.” Sadly, the whole thing turned out to be a ruse on behalf of New York Mag’s Bedford + Bowery interactive newsroom that was being built in the space. The news team hung the poster and waited to see how long it would take the idea to catch on across social media. After the idea went viral, the crew let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Though we won’t be hearing any meows over our lattes, there’s definitely a message to take away: Brooklyn wants a cat café.
So will we ever have one in NYC? As it is now, the health code states “live animals, including birds and turtles, are to be excluded from food service operations.” Could this mean that foodless establishments could indeed have cats? At KitTea, which is scheduled to open later this year in San Francisco, the founders have said, “Our tea prep is in an entirely separate room as the kitty tea lounge and will be up to the healthy standards of San Francisco's Food Safety Program.” So, the short answer for us in the Northeast: never stop dreaming, New York.