Coffee, cake and …kitties? Is London ready for it’s first ‘Cat Cafe’?

Happy new year! I’ve just spotted a wonderful piece of London-based news: plans to open the city’s first (and I believe also the country’s only) Cat Cafe! Lady Dinah is currently raising funding to set up her ‘Cat Emporium’ in East London this March.

This is something I’ve been telling people about since I visited Japan a few years ago, where the concept of the Neko-cafe is quite well established. Cities like Tokyo are heavily populated and living space can be limited, with families often sharing quite small urban apartments. So there’s not much space for a pet. But never fear, with their love of the adorable, kawaii and convenient, comes a pet that can be rented by the hour. It’s rather like a more innocent version of a hostess-bar; for a fee you can enjoy some time in a comfortable parlour, with the fluffy inhabitants. Equipped with soft rugs, cushions, scratching posts and an assortment of hidey-spaces, you can enjoy a cup of tea and spend your allocated period of time playing with and generally lavishing attention on the resident kitties. This definitely appeals if, like me, you rent and aren’t allowed a pet, or are just too busy/broke/irresponsible to take on full ownership of a pet.

Being mobbed by cats at a cafe in Nagoya. Note look of joy.

Being mobbed by cats at a cafe in Nagoya. Note look of joy.

I went to visit a couple of these places and what struck me was the variety of the clientèle  I’d assumed it would mostly be children, brought by their parents to get their cat fix. But actually there were quite a few suited business-men, unashamedly enjoying a bit of cat-action, not to mention groups of would-be cat-ladies. Given the popularity of cat-based internet memes, maybe this really is something with universal appeal? There’s something very relaxing about devoting some quality time to stroking a cat, I’m sure I’ve even read studies attesting to the benefits on body and mind of a bit of cat company (here is a long list of supposed benefits, to be taken with more than a pinch of salt). But annecdotally I’ll say, cats can definitely cheer me up! At one cafe I visited you could pay to buy a little can of tuna, which ensured the instant (and rather frantic) love of the residents, as they clambered over you to get a bite. If only everyone in life was as easy to win over?

I did pick up on a difference between the younger and older cats at the cafe. Much like pet-shop animals who have become used to punters tapping at the glass all day, there were definitely a few world-weary cats who had grown sick of the constant attention and had curled into a ball on a high-up perch, refusing to be tempted away by their public’s finger-clicking and cooing. It does make me wonder what happens when the cats get old, or no-longer want to play nice with the attendees? Though I imagine, much like with the hostess bars, you get the occasional rich benefactor who might fall in love with one of the residents and offers the establishment a good price to take them away to a more private arrangement.

Cats don't make the best employees. Often they just want to sleep, and will resist your ernest attempt to play with them

Cats don’t make the best employees. Often they just want to sleep, and will resist your ernest attempt to play with them

Lauren Pears and co plan to add a bit of British class and elegance to London’s cat cafe, to set it apart from from it’s Asian siblings. I’ve already pledged my funding as I really hope this project goes ahead! I imagine it as somewhere a bit more quirky and whimsical to meet friends than your generic Starbucks, and a quieter and less-alcohol focused evening hangout. I could definitely see myself becoming a regular.

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