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“Are you all here for your 4 o’clock reservation? Party of six?” manager Christy Cedeño asks the guests arriving at her restaurant, which happens to be a cat café and saké bar.
These words are uttered in many fine restaurants around the world, but a minute later at the Manhattan-based, Japanese-inspired Koneko — which means “kitten” in Japanese — Cedeño advises the guests: “Let them sniff your hand first, before touching them.”
Cat cafés that combine fine fare with our favorite feline friends have sprung up all over the world in the last decade or two. Now the most discriminating cat ladies and gentlemen have more options to fulfill their desires of stroking a silky kitty while sipping a Stumptown Cold Brew or a sparkling Cawston Press Elderflower Lemonade.
The food and drinks are not an afterthought at these places, and neither is the happiness of the most valued visitors: the cats.
“We like quality things, so that’s why we go for Stumptown Coffee and pastries by a French-trained Japanese pastry chef,” Cedeño says.
The cat café concept began in Taiwan in 1998, says Forbes Magazine, and was brought by tourists to Japan where the cafés proliferated, possibly because many Japanese people live in small apartments where pets are forbidden.
That may be the case in Manhattan, and other urban settings, as well. There’s no need to sacrifice taste, however, to lounge with your favorite felines. Check out our picks for the finest cat cafés in the world.
1. Koneko in New York City, USA
In New York City, yes, there’s the Meow Parlor and Brooklyn Cat Café, but arguably, Koneko is even better. At this stylish cat café guests can enjoy a glass of award-winning Dassai saké and a plate of chilled natsu udon noodles alongside any of the twenty adoptable cats.
Pastries such as matcha, yuzu and black sesame dacquoise come from Patisserie Tomoko, run by Kyoto-educated Pastry Chef Tomoko Kato, who trained at Bouley and Le Bernardin. Snacks are house-made izakaya favorites, such as the squid and pork belly savory pancake called okonomiyaki. Coffee is from Stumptown, and tea from In Pursuit of Tea, the purveyor of tea to such restaurants as Daniel and Eleven Madison Park. Also try a bottle of wine or beer, or sip a mimosa at brunch time.
Reservations are $20 an hour to hang in the cat nap lounge, but you can dine in the café at your leisure, in addition to the cost of the food and drink. Guests who want to do both — who wouldn’t?! — can put in their reservations, order their drink and food, and then enter the secure vestibule. Between the two doors, they swap street shoes for slippers and relax with the free-roaming adoptable kitties in three cat-centric spaces: the sunlit Upper Cattery, the warm and cozy Lower Cattery, and a first-of-its-kind outdoor Catio. Staff will bring your food and drinks to you. While New York City health codes prohibit the mix of food preparation and felines, eating in the cat lounges is permitted. Just don’t feed the cats.
Founded by Benjamin Kalb in 2015, Koneko’s central mission is to find loving homes for cats pulled from the city’s at-risk list by their partner, Anjellicle Cats Rescue. These are the cats scheduled to be euthanized within 48 to 72 hours. Some of these lucky kitties end up at Koneko, where they’re able to be adopted by vetted guests. Children younger than 12 must be accompanied by an adult.
Often cats are adopted within a month, and some can take as long as a year, such as Toby, who was extra sensitive, Cedeño says. “It’s bittersweet. I cried when he left,” she says. “That’s why I’m here, moments like seeing Toby find a family. In the meantime, they can watch the birds out in the Catio or go indoors to the play area and interact with people. They’re living their best life.”
Koneko: 26 Clinton St., New York, NY, 10002, +1 646-370-5699, www.konekoynyc.com
2. Republic of Cats in St. Petersburg, Russia
Located in the same building as the St. Petersburg Cat Museum, Republic of Cats is the first Russian cat cafe. To mingle with the twenty-five cats of seventeen breeds in the swanky, bold and modern décor, you can request an “entry visa”, which costs 200 to 500 rubles (from US $ 3 to US $ 8), depending on the day and the type of visit. This visa indicates your weight, height and age (or its equivalent “in cat”), and you will be asked to wear linings on your shoes and wash your hands to protect the cats. The visa is mandatory only for those who want to enter the Republic, which is a room isolated from the rest of the premises. The entrance to the café and the souvenir shop is free.
In the café, drinks and food are cat-themed, such as the KOTuchino (CATuccino/cappuccino) and tiraMEOW (tiramisu). The café also hosts workshops on how to treat cats, making cat toys and baking cat cakes.
While hundreds of these café cats are adopted each year, check out the Hermitage cats, who take up permanent residence at the Hermitage Museum, with their own press secretary and staff of caretakers. “The Hermitage cats are one of the symbols of the museum and are on their way to becoming one of the attributes of our city,” press secretary Maria Borisovna Khaltunen said during the Day of the Hermitage Cat celebration at the museum on May 13, 2017. “With this celebration, we give an example of how to care for animals that touch the hearts of absolutely everyone.”
Republic of Cats: St. Petersburg, Yakubovicha Street 10, +7 (812) 312-0487, www.catsrepublic.ru
3. Cat Café Neko no Niwa in Singapore
Named for the Japanese words for “cat garden,” Singapore’s first cat café is the purrfect place to unwind with coffee, cakes, and thirteen rescued, adoptable kitties. Sometimes, the café even hosts cat yoga. You can always, however, enjoy desserts from artisanal bakers, smoothies, coffee, tea, juices, and more.
Open since December 2013, founders Sue and Sam wanted to bring this warm and fuzzy experience to Singapore after they visited several cat cafés in Japan. With more than fifteen years of cat care experience behind them, they are firm proponents of cat therapy, as well as the simple joy and relaxation cats can provide their humans. The café offers cat-care workshops on Wednesday evenings for $35, which includes a goodie bag and drink.
Children younger than 7 are not allowed in the cat area, and children between 7 and 14 must be supervised by an adult at all times for safety reasons. For regular visits, the first hour is $12, and each additional half hour is $5. Reservations are recommended. For more information, email email@example.com.
Cat Café Neko no Niwa: 54A Boat Quay (level 2), Singapore 049843, +65 6536-5319, www.catcafe.com.sg
4. Le Café Des Chats in Paris, France
Relax like a Parisian in the elegant, vintage atmosphere of Le Café des Chats, a restaurant and tea room where a dozen cats live freely. When you visit, check out the chair and other furniture tacked high on the walls. Perched overhead, these cats love to flaunt their elevated status, in attitude and in literal height.
Eat a full meal, such as a croque monsieur, a hamburger or a tomato tart with goat cheese and honey. There are house-made desserts such as dark chocolate mousse, as well as charcuterie and cheese boards. Vegans have plenty of options, such as guacamole and chips or a salad mixed with coral lentils, organic golden apples, avocado, tomatoes, lemon, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. There’s also wine, beer, tea, juice, soda, and coffee drinks.
These cats were abandoned or born in the street and have found a stable home at Le Café des Chats. But they’re not just any felines; these select few were chosen for their sociability towards other cats and humans. Part of the profits of the Café des Chats is donated to feline protection, and each month a retirement contribution is provided for each cat. At this café, the cats are not adoptable to the public. Reservations are not needed.
Le Café Des Chats: 9 rue Sedaine, Paris, France 75011, www.lecafedeschats.fr
5. KitTea Cat Café in San Francisco, USA
Spots for the cat lounge on Friday, Saturday and Sunday fill up a couple days in advance, so you’ll want to book early. After all, it’s an honor to sip Oolong among twenty-one rescued kitties, of which fourteen are residents and seven are adoptable. With your ticket comes a bottomless selection of four premium Japanese green teas.
To satisfy your hunger, nibble on a figgy grilled cheese, using goat cheese, arugula, and fig preserves on a ciabatta bun and a side salad of mixed greens. Add chicken or smoked salmon to that sandwich or to a café salad for a heartier meal. Or just have some English scones with Chantilly cream, butter, and organic fruit jam. Of course, this place has the variety of quality tea you should expect from a fine tea house.
Cat lounge tickets are $20 weekdays, $25 on weekends, and $15 during “happy meowr.” Special evenings include game nights with bottomless tea, 21 cats, and 2-plus hours.
KitTea: 96 Gough Street, San Francisco, California, +1 415-658-7888, www.kitteasf.com
6. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London, England, United Kingdom
This whimsical place in the arty Shoreditch neighborhood of central-east London is so haute you need to book your spot at least a month in advance for a weekend visit. Lauren Pears named her café after Dinah, the kitten from the classic Alice in Wonderland fairy tale.
The entire café is wonderland-themed; there’s a forest section, a hedge maze, and a Mad Hatter area. This magical place is custom-built and painted and sculpted by creatively talented café staff. They also helped make coloring book drawings of the cats for mugs, patches, and other items for sale.
Expect between 13 and 17 cats there at any one time, enjoying their toys, beds, different strains of cat-nip, puzzle feeders, shelves, trees, scratchers, ceiling installations, and rope bridges. They’re usually not up for adoption, because the café owners want the cats to feel they have a stable home. The emporium says it’s the was first cat café in the world to offer yoga with cats.
Enjoy the dainty nibbles of high tea with the elegant three-tiered platter and china tea cups, or sparkling wine. You can also go a la carte, with coffee, tea, sodas, cocktails, — like Paws for a Pimm’s — and hot chocolate and salads, fresh savory filled rolls or desserts. Special events change seasonally, including cat bingo, coloring with cats, board game night, and knitting nights. Children younger than 12 aren’t permitted, nor parties larger than six. The emporium is closed on Wednesdays.
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium: 152-154 Bethnal Green Road, E2 6DG, England, United Kingdom, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.ladydinahs.com ■