Cat Cafés—Every Cat Lover’s Dream
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.
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.
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.
Regardless of why people love cat cafés, it looks like these feline havens are here to stay.
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.