Cat cafés might have started as simple, themed cafés, but they have evolved to be so much more than that. A cross between a cat coffee shop, petting zoo and zen space, cat cafés allow patrons to play with or watch cats just being cats—all in a relaxed atmosphere that is perfectly designed for the feline residents.
While some cat cafés feature intrinsic climbing spaces and décor, others simply provide plenty of surfaces for the cats to sleep on—whether that means tables or artificial trees—and often, your own chair.
The Benefits of Cat Cafés and Cat Coffee Shops
People flock to cat cafés for many reasons. Some come to find a friend to adopt, while others just want to enjoy the healing effects of cat purring. In countries like Japan, where many apartment complexes prohibit animals, cat cafés offer locals the opportunity to spend time with a fluffy friend after a long day at work.
A Little Bit of Cat Lounge History
Cat cafés started in Asia and quickly became a sensation, in part thanks to Japan’s fascination with the concept. The world’s first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998, but it wasn’t until Japan joined the cat café craze in 2004 that the idea became truly popular. Even today, there’s no better place to visit for a variety of cat cafés—from the basic to the bizarre—than Japan, where you can find close to 100 different ones across the country.
Japan has taken the concept of kitty cafés to a whole different level. They offer categories of cat cafés where you can find only specific types of cats, like black cat cafés or those with certain breeds. For example, Asakusa Nekoen is home to rehabilitated cats available for adoption, while Neko JaLaLa is home to exotic breeds such as Abyssinians. Tokyo has recently opened rabbit, goat and other animal-oriented cafés, which offer patrons a truly unique interactive experience.
Japanese kitty cafés are also unique in another aspect. They have to follow strict animal welfare guidelines that include not bothering the cats while they’re sleeping and keeping children from disturbing the animals too much. Animal protection laws also require all cat cafés to close at 10 p.m. to prevent animals from becoming too tired or too stressed because of excessive human contact. To discourage large crowds from hanging around for too long, Japanese cat cafés usually charge an hourly fee for visitors.
Paving the Way to Europe: Cat Cafés All Over the World
While cat cafés have been popular in Asia for over a decade, the rest of the world has taken some time to catch up. It wasn’t until 2011 that the first cat café opened in Saint Petersburg, Russia, followed by one in Vienna, Austria. While most European cat coffee shops and cat lounges don’t charge entry fees and don’t have specific themes or rules, Belgium’s DreamCATchers is home to shelter cats looking for a home.
The Czech Republic and Germany have the most cat cafés of any country in Europe, ranging from the small and simple to more elaborate ones with tons of climbing and hiding space. Kavarna Kocici in Prague is particularly unique because it has a completely enclosed garden where kitties (and visitors) can safely catch some rays in each other’s company.
Cat Cafés in the United States
American cat cafés are different from international cat cafés because the U.S. is the only country where cats cannot be in the same area where food is served, making the experience completely different (in contrast, cats and dogs are allowed in most restaurants in Europe).
Instead, kitty cafés in the U.S. focus on lounging spaces where you can rest, read a book or enjoy some down time with a kitty of your choice. Some cat cafés have a separate eating area, while others will bring your food to the cat lounging space, but will not allow the kitties to make it to the main eating area. Some cafés also offer special events or activities, such as Eat, Purr, Love in Columbus, Ohio, where they offer monthly yoga classes where you can pet kitties in between asana poses.
Here are four cat cafes in North America that you won’t want to miss.
New York, New York
About the café: Meow Parlour is New York City’s first cat café, offering a tranquil escape from the bustling streets of the Lower East Side. Meow Parlour is a feline paradise with a massive wall of climbing structures for its resident cats, who are all adoptable through KittyKind. While guests can enjoy their coffee at a window-side bar, most visitors opt instead for a pillow seat on the floor, where they can snuggle up close with a kitty. Meow Parlour has helped more than 200 cats find loving homes, including special needs cats and those who are more challenging to place. “We’re proud of the fact that we feature harder-to-adopt cats like Fanny and Nicky, our two special needs cats with cerebellar hypoplasia,” says founder Christina Ha. “We want to help cats who need a cheerleader to boost their adoption chances.”
What makes it special: Meow Parlour is owned by the cat-loving team behind one of the city’s finest bakeries, Macaron Parlour—and their delicious French macarons are one of the most sought-after items on the menu. They even offer cat-themed macarons complete with tabby stripes and whiskers. Purrfect!
Details: While Meow Parlour offers walk-ins based on availability, they often book out for weeks in advance. Make a 30-minute reservation for $6 online to guarantee a spot.
About the café: Cat Town is a nonprofit cat café in Oakland, featuring a revolving door of cats seeking loving adopters. As the very first cat café in the United States, Cat Town built the model for integrating felines and food as a new strategy for saving lives. Inspired by his visit to several cat cafes in Japan, co-founder Adam Myatt collaborated with his local animal rescue to develop a café where people could drink coffee and help cats at the same time. According to Myatt, “I reached out and asked the rescue if they thought we could save more cats by creating a café featuring cats that were up for adoption. It’s a crazy idea…but Oakland is crazy enough to do it!” The impact has been huge—since its founding in 2014, the cat café has saved so many animals from the city’s shelter that Oakland has become a no-kill city for cats.
What makes it special? The café is designed to look like a miniature version of the city, with four cat-sized structures modeled after iconic buildings in downtown Oakland.
Details: Walk-ins are available for a $5 donation, but the best way to guarantee a spot is to make a one-hour appointment online for $10. Entry fees are tax-deductible and support the cats!
Kawaii Kitty Café
About the café: Kawaii Kitty Café is an adorable little shop in South Philadelphia that truly lives up to its cutesy name. With an aesthetic theme centered around Japanese Kawaii culture, the café features interior design, art, and even food that is girly-cute. “We are basically a happy pastel cat wonderland!” says owner Kristin Eissler, whose café has helped find homes for over 100 cats in its first nine months. Even the cat’s names are stylized—within the café’s walls you’ll meet cats with names such as Fanny Pack, Whoopsie Goldberg, and Megatron. “We pride ourselves on giving the cats silly names, personalities, and funny back stories. It helps people connect with our cats.”
What makes it special:One of the most popular items on the menu is the cat themed milkshake. It comes with a photo of a featured cat, a Kawaii toy, pastel ice cream, whipped cream, and tons of Japanese candy and sprinkles!
Details: The cat room can accommodate up to eight guests at a time, and you can book the entire room or share the room with other guests. A one-hour reservation spot costs $10 per person and can be booked online.
About the café: Catfé is a gathering space for cat lovers and adoptable felines at the International Village Mall in Vancouver. The café features vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options for guests to enjoy while playing with an assortment of friendly felines. As a satellite adoption center for the BC SPCA, the café focuses on helping adoptable cats thrive in a home-like environment until they meet their perfect adopters. Catfe’s cats are so desirable that they actually have experienced several days in which they had to close due to all the cats being adopted!
What makes it special: Catfe may be the only coffee shop you’ll find in a mall that offers “catpuccinos”—a delicious treat with cat-shaped latte art.
Details: The cat room can accommodate up to 16 guests, with 10 spots able to be reserved online and the others held for walk-ins. A reservation costs $5 per person with a café purchase, or $8 just to play with the cats!
Regardless of why people love cat cafés, it looks like these feline havens are here to stay.
Hannah Shaw is the founder of Kitten Lady. Her mission is to change the way we perceive & treat animals—especially orphaned kittens.
Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and adventurer who has written for National Geographic, DiscoveryChannel.com, Yahoo! and Marie Claire. Diana has lived in five countries and taken her rescued dogs along to each one of them.