The world’s first cat cafe, ”貓花園” (Cat Flower Garden), quietly opened its doors in Taiwan in 1998. The idea behind the cafe was that young professional urbanites can come to a cat cafe after a high stress day and decompress with a cup of tea and a purring cat on their lap. The idea was an immediate hit with the city-dwelling Taiwanese, but also with Japanese tourists. So, it was only a matter of time before the cat-crazed Japanese imported the concept to their neighboring island. In 2004, Japan’s first cat cafe, “猫の店” (The Cat’s Store), opened its doors and the idea soon exploded, with Tokyo alone now having dozens of cat cafes dotting its city streets. Some of the cafes specialize in specific types of cats – such as black cats, fat cats, rare breeds or ex-strays – but most of them follow strict rules to ensure cleanliness and animal welfare.
Then the idea that “many urbanites cannot own cats, but want to have kitty-cuddle time” spread even farther in Asia, jumping from one cat-loving country to the next.
In 2012, ”Norie Cat” with about 20 cats, opened in Korea. Malaysians followed with the “Purrfect Cat Cafe” debuting eight cats in Penang, while in Bangkok, Thailand the “Purr Cat Café” showcased 14 Persians, as well as a cat beautician and feline outfit shop.
Across the sea in Europe, the idea of serving warm beverages and pastries along side lounging pussycats unsurprisingly also took root. The owner of the French ”Le Café des Chats” of Paris calls her business “purr therapy.” The first weekend “Le Café des Chats” opened its doors, hundreds of people lined up to sip a beverage and cuddle a cat.
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium on the edge of London’s financial district is also cashing in on this purr therapy. ”The idea is you can come have a peaceful lunch or high tea and be surrounded by cats. If you’re lucky, one of them will fall asleep on your lap,” said Anna Kogan, an investment banker who is co-owner of Dinah’s along with Lauren Pears. Ms Krogan also added that the Emporium is very luxurious, so that patrons really feel pampered while they pamper the pussycats – and the result is beneficial to everyone.
Interestingly, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium was partially financed by a crowdfunding campaign, which raised more than 109,000 pounds in less than two months. Obviously, Londoners saw the value of purr therapy. Once the cafe’s online booking system went live, cat-lovers made more than 3,000 reservations the first day, causing the website to temporarily crash. It is now also booked months out – even though you must pay a 5 pound fee to just enter the cafe and you must agree to leave within two hours.
“I thought that it would be really really cool to just hang out with loads and loads of cats,” said recent patron Christy McCormick.
In addition to the cafes in England and France, the following Euro countries are also hosting cat-centric coffee houses, all of which have popped up post-2010:
- French Austria: Cafe Neko
- Hungary: Cat Café Budapest
- Germany: Cafe Katzentempel in Munich and Pee Pees Katzencafe in Berlin
- Spain: La Gatoteca
- Italy: Neko Café
- Lithuania: Cat Cafe Kačių Kavinė is scheduled to open in Vilnius in May 2014.
America has had a harder time getting its first kitty cafe due to food service industry regulations. Last year, excited rumors of a Bostonian cat cafe opening were quashed after news leaked that burdensome regulations were in the way. San Francisco looked like it would trump Boston for hosting the first American cat-centric cafe as the founders of the hopeful “KitTea,” Courtney Hatt and David Braginsky, are having significantly more success at working with San Francisco’s Retail Food Safety Program.
However, just last week, NYC trumped them both. Purina ONE used its corporate clout to get the required permits to open America’s first feline-centric cafe. With a twist that seemed inevitable with cat cafes, this cafe (The Cat Cafe) is actually run by a local animal rescue group. North Shore Animal League partnered with Purina ONE and together they have created a unique environment for people to meet adoptable cats. That said, the cafe is a pop-up only, meaning it is located in a temporary event space for only a few days, so Boston or San Francisco you still have a chance to host the first permanent cat cafe in America.
Do you know of other cat cafes in your neighborhood or around the world? If so, please share. Have you been to cat cafe? Share your stories!
Next page – videos of cat cafes from around the world