The Oldie

Modern Life: What is a Cat Café?


Anna Savory

AT FIRST glance cat cafés are self-explanator­y. After all, it’s there in the title; normal, run-of-the-mill cafés with the added bonus of ten or twenty cats roaming around the place. Patrons can interact and play with the resident felines over tea and scones or relax with a black coffee and a tabby curled snugly on their laps. Prices are usually somewhat higher than standard cafés, but then can you really put a price on the company of cats?

If this concept does not immediatel­y appeal to you, or you are questionin­g the wisdom of mixing animals, their fur, and the preparatio­n of food, then it may come as a surprise to know that cat cafés are astounding­ly popular.

At the time of writing Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium (London’s premier cat café) comes with a three-week waiting list, and you must book your hourly cat-petting and high tea session well in advance to avoid disappoint­ment.

Perhaps some of this popularity is due to the fact that cats in the past decade have undergone a wave of modern worship on a scale approachin­g that of Ancient Egypt. Cat videos are the second most viewed thing on the internet (I will leave it to your imaginatio­n to name the first most viewed). But I suspect an additional contributi­ng factor is that most rented accommodat­ion doesn’t allow pets, meaning that Lady Dinah’s is a beacon for young pet-starved Londoners who have just moved to the capital and are missing the feline comforts of home.

Like so many of the most enjoyably bizarre things in modern life, cat cafés are a Japanese export. The first Japanese

cat café (Neko no Jikan – literally Cat’s Time) opened in Osaka in 2004, quickly followed by Tokyo’s Neko no Mise (Shop of Cats) the year after.

Flash forward a scant ten years and cat cafés now grace cities across the globe, from Mexico City to New York and on to Vienna. The last, incidental­ly, claims to have been home to a historical cat café that opened in the summer of 1912 and boasted Vladimir Lenin as a cat-loving customer. This is likely the stuff of local legend, however, and the claim that the café shut in 1914 when its patriotic owner helped the war effort by donating all the cats to a factory making fur-lined boots is certainly apocryphal.

So next time you happen to be in a major city, why not pop in to the cat café it will inevitably be home to? Bristol (a city ever ahead of the curve when it comes to youth trends) even boasts a cat pub – the Bag O’ Nails, offering retro board game nights, 100 varieties of beer and the company of fifteen cats (all of whom were born in the pub: one, notably, in a crisp box during a quiz night). Originally there were 24 cats and kittens, though landlord Luke Daniels has stated that this may have been ‘too much’ and nine of them were re-homed in the local area (and happily not sold to any Bristolian fur-boot-making factories).

It’s comforting to know that, should you fancy something a little harder than coffee, the UK has taken the notion of the cat café and improved upon it by introducin­g alcohol. But what if cats simply aren’t your thing? Well, you will be pleased to know that the feline cafés and pubs have spawned a variety of copy-cat (no pun intended) animal-themed eateries and drinkeries. From ‘doggy-cuddle restaurant­s’ to bars with owls ... a gastronomi­c world of animal companions awaits.

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