At Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, the first permanent cat cafe in the United States, you aren't likely to have that much drama.
Food and drink can intermix with the cats that are in a separate room. In this environment, the food and drink become secondary to being with the cats. Since the cafe is open during the day, the cats are more likely to be asleep or if awake, are tending to cat needs such as stretching, eating, and wondering about the next place they will fall asleep for the rest of the afternoon.
We were told there were 7 cats. I counted 8 cats. Only 2 of them were awake or somewhat awake in the hour we had from 2-3 pm on a Sunday afternoon.
Petting a sleeping cat is fun, but separate from the actions most people would naturally do in a regular cafe. The people, including your humble narrator, will trying really hard to get the semi-awake cats to pay attention to them.
We only had 1 hour since the weekends virtually required a $10 reservation fee that only covered an hour. A few people showed up only to be turned away without a reservation. To be fair, a Wednesday trip at 11 am might not need a reservation, but you only get 1 hour.
The cat cafe felt more like a petting zoo for cats instead of a cat cafe. The zoo theme extended to those watching from the other room in the cafe as well as on the street at the corner of 29th Street and Broadway north of the downtown Oakland core. So the people inside the room were also animals on display with every human waiting for the animals to come out and play.
None of this is meant to be a criticism of Cat Town Cafe, the people who work or volunteer there, or the cats themselves. What we have is a reasonable attempt to give cat lovers this extra boost, though it falls short of what most people would want from a cat cafe.
The primary focus of Cat Town Cafe is to get cats to be adopted by warm, loving people. As of my visit, the cafe had placed 43 cats.
If I were running a cat cafe …
- Run the cat cafe at night, allowing the cats to use the space to sleep during the day. Give plenty of window space for daytime cafe customers to observe the sleeping cats, knowing that the fun will happen at night. Cats are nocturnal animals and want to walk around at night and observe and interact with humans.
- Allow more than 1 hour with the cats, but charge by the hour. If you buy drink or food, the charge would get waived.
- On the back of the menu, you would learn more about the cats in front of you. We did get some information about the cats, but since most of them were asleep, the information had little relevance.
- Build in a cat door so the cats can go to a private room if things get too hairy (for them). The cats have to rule in order for a cat cafe to work.
Other countries have cat cafes more along the type described above. Issues about food and cats mixing together will likely mean U.S. versions will play it safe. Says something for cats in a country where animal safety isn't a concern for the animals we eat.
In Chicago, you see a lot of bars where dogs are free to roam inside the bar. Then again, those bars don't have a food license. Yes, you do see dogs drinking sometimes, even if they are under 3 years old (21 in human years). If a cat sniffs around your baked good in an environment where you have voluntarily placed yourself, then you don't really have a complaint. No one will force you to go into a room with cats, no matter how cute the cats are.
KitTea, a similar type cat cafe, has plans for a location on Gough near Haight and Market in San Francisco. As you can see in the picture above, the location won't be ready soon but maybe sometime in 2015. Given the nuances of laws in San Francisco, don't count on KitTea to be any more non-adventurous as Cat Town Cafe in Oakland.
Cat Town Cafe is located at 2869 Broadway in Oakland. If traveling by BART, take the train to the 19th Street Oakland station and proceed north to 29th Street. Cafe is open W-Su 8 am-7 pm; the cat portion is open 10 am-7 pm on those days.
photos credit: me