TAIWAN — Goat cafes, rabbit cafes, even loneliness-curing Moomin cafes.
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.”
And so it would appear.
Started in Taiwan a dozen or so years ago with a cafe called Cat Flower Garden, the concept was most enthusiastically embraced in Japan where today there are more cat cafes than anywhere else in the world — around 150 at the last count.
Now the rest of the world is cat-ching on.
In April the United States saw it’s first feline coffee house open in New York, albeit only temporarily, London recently opened its first too and a number of major European cities now also offer purr-fect coffee breaks.
Australia is soon to join the fray as well.
“My partner and I went to Japan 18 months ago — going to a cat cafe was an amazing experience and we decided to open our own in Melbourne,” says Anita Loughran, owner of Cat Cafe Melbourne, which will open in July 2014.
“It’s a place where animal and cat lovers can mingle, socialize and be comfortable in a quiet environment that reflects their interests.”
Cat cafe 101
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 Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London.
Her website says the cafe is fully booked until October 2014.
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 non-customer 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.
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.
Look out in the future for KitTea, due to open in San Francisco later this year, and Purringtons Cat Lounge in Oregon hoping to invite people in for a cup before the end of 2014.
Cat cafes to check out
London: Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, 152-154 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch;+44 (0) 207 729 0953
Munich, Germany: Café Katzentempel, Turkenstrasse 29, Munich; +49 89 2006 1249
Vienna, Austria: Cafe Neko, Blumenstockgasse 5; +43 1 5121 466
Tokyo: Nyafe Melange, 1-7-13 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku; +91 3 5449 4024
Paris: Le Cafe des Chats, 16 rue Michel Le Comte, Marais; +33 9 7353 3581
Budapest, Hungary: CatCafe Budapest, Revay utca 3; +36 2 0617 3301
Madrid, Spain: La Gatoteca, Calle Argumosa 28; +34 9 1622 5831
Dubai, U.A.E.: Dubai Cat Cafe, Jumeirah, Dubai; +971 50 115 4287
Melbourne, Australia: Cat Cafe Melbourne, 375 Queen Street (opening soon)