The world of the weird cafe has moved on from cats.
And yet, while some of these obscure cafes grab headlines for a few days and then vanish, cat cafes have proliferated around the world, to become if not the most novel, certainly the most enduring craze when it comes to themed coffee houses.
German philosopher Albert Schweitzer reportedly once said: “The only escape from the miseries of life is music and cats.” But if seeing the live action adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical doesn’t sound like a welcome escape, might we suggest a cat cafe visit?
Started in Taiwan over 20 years ago with a cafe called Cat Flower Garden (now called Café Dogs & Cats), the concept was most enthusiastically embraced in Japan. Today, there are more cat cafes in Japan than anywhere else in the world — around 150 at the last count.
Since the 1998 opening of the first cat cafe, there’s been a storm of cat cafe opening around the world. You could say the concept is cat-ching on.
Australia, Colombia and South Africa have all embraced this particular cat life as well.
Cat cafe 101
Koneko in lower Manhattan is a cat cafe and sake bar inspired by the cat cafes in Japan.
For the uninitiated, a cat cafe doesn’t sound too complicated. It’s a regular cafe that happens to have cats walking, or lying, around. But there are nuances that distinguish this kind of cafe from others.
You often need to book before you arrive, because: A) the cats are liable to walk out as you walk in, and B) the ratio of people to cats needs to be controlled.
“We now have a booking system, because 20,000 people wanted to come into a 30-seat cafe all at the same time,” says Lauren Pears, founder of London’s Lady Dinah’s.
Sanitation and health issues also need to be considered and have put some people off.
“Who wants cat hair everywhere? That would gross me out,” says Diana Mullin, a noncustomer from Vancouver.
But Loughran says there’s nothing to worry about: “As the cats are completely separate from the cafe, this is not an issue. And if people still have their concerns, they should actually visit a cat cafe first. We would not be able to open if we weren’t super hygienic.”
Most cafes also have a look-but-don’t-grab policy to minimize catty stress and potential clawing of customers. Grabbing is never recommending, but many cafes encourage gently petting and caressing and place the emphasis on this interaction as opposed to the food and drink program.
The price of admission to Osaka’s Cat of Liberty, for examples, includes a hot or cold beverage, but the drinks are an afterthought. It’s the soothing cat time that matters.
After all, the idea is that these cafes provide an almost therapeutic area to chill, as Café Neko owner Takako Ishimitsu in Vienna says.
Though she advises any mother visiting the cafe check her pram before leaving: Some of the cats can inadvertently turn stowaway, having sought out the warm softness of a baby carrier.
Thomas Leidner, owner of the Cafe Katzentempel in Munich, says: “The popularity of these cafes is probably due to the fact that many people are not allowed, or are disinclined to have pets in the city, yet they occasionally feel the need for closeness to an animal.
“Life today is busy and hectic, so offering an oasis of calm, where you can relax over a drink and enjoy (vegan) snacks, is important to us.”
Pears agrees. “I think a lot of our patrons just enjoy coming to play with them. We also find they tend to make conversation with other patrons. The cafe has a nice community feel to it.”
“What could be better than a black Americano, a good book, and a cat curled up beside you (even better if it’s on your lap)?” says Sandi from the UK, one of the trend’s enthusiastic fans.
“Bliss! The only issue I have is struggling to leave.”
And so the cat cafe continues to spread across the globe.
Cat cafes around the world
Dubai, UAE: Ailuromania Cat Cafe, 844 Jumeirah, Dubai; +971 4 321 6661