Dallas has two cat cafes in the works. Lewisville’s Charming Cat Café forged a relationship with local shelter Kitty Save, and has their eyes on a location with a safely walled-in patio. They even launched a Kickstarter to raise cash. Meanwhile, Muffinmeow Café and Cat Lounge is drafting a business plan and looking at locations in central Dallas. The two businesses share a plan: create a welcoming coffee shop with a number of adorable, adoptable resident cats, supplied by local shelters.
But just what is visiting a cat café like? And where does it fall on the genius-insanity spectrum? To find out, we visited the trend’s North American pioneer, Café Chat L’Heureux in Montreal, Canada. And, honestly, we’re not quite as enthusiastic as we were before.
Here’s what to expect when you make your first trip to a cat café.
1. All the décor is cats. You like cats, right? The chalkboard at Café Chat L’Heureux has cartoon cats; the bookshelves are filled with books about cats; there’s a display case of porcelain cats; your tea kettle is a hand-painted cat. A lot of the decorations are functional cat playplaces too, like walkways across the ceiling, kitty towers and even the bookshelves themselves, which have cat-sized holes for easy climbing.
2. The staff take hygiene seriously ... mostly. The café was incredibly clean on our visit, even down to the spotless floors. Soap dispensers are available throughout. But the Café Chat L’Heureux’s website claims every visitor will be asked to wash hands upon entry, which did not happen on our visit. When we visited the bathroom, a stubborn kitty sat in front of the toilet and refused to budge. And there’s a more serious problem…
3. You eat and drink at your own very real risk. We sat under one of the, uh, catwalks, and a majestic black kitty with a huge tail walked overhead dangling a toy from the corner of its mouth. “Uh,” someone said, “what if he drops it on us?” On the other side of the room, an overenthusiastic kitten jumped onto a table, landed on an empty saucer, and skittered like a maniac through a full tea service. Hygienically speaking, this is slightly yucky. Keepinghotdrinksawayfromourprivatepartsically speaking, this is terrifying.
Lewisville’s Charming Cat Café promises to keep the coffee/snack room separate from the cats’ playroom. Great idea! But Café Chat L’Heureux’s website makes the exact same promise, and its space is one big room.
4. All the food is vegetarian. What happens when cats try to eat your food? We asked founder-owner Clement Marty, a tall, muscular man wearing a T-shirt that said “Ask Me About My Cats.” He said: “We never have that problem. All the food is vegetarian, because the cats would be attracted to the smell of chicken or meat.” Clever, but cats don’t like vegetables? This is news to us.
5. The concept is very kid-friendly. Parents of small children, bring your kids and set them loose on a pack of kittens. But if you’re childless and want to hog all the kitties yourself, reconsider. By an unofficial dibs system, kids get first priority for playtime.
6. The cats still act like cats. They will ignore you. Half of them will be asleep. True, these are very friendly felines, that are used to lots of human visitors, but they cover most of the range of cat personalities, from hyperactive kittens to majestic old divas to cats that just want a nap. Truth is, we never actually got to interact with the cats. A couple of them ran between our legs, but that was as close as we got.
7. The staff and ownership really care about the cats. The felines get a separate room, separated by pet doors, for litter boxes. There’s a screened-off area for private time and human avoidance. Escape isn’t easy, since customers enter through two different sets of doors. And every table comes with a “cat menu” listing the cats, their names, photos and various personality traits. Our cat menu looked like the residents had been chewing on it.
8. Don’t bring a dog person. We did bring a dog person to Café Chat L’Heureux, in the name of journalism, and also because we’re assholes. He was baffled by the experience, even before a cat refused to let him into a bathroom stall. “This,” he sighed, “is not for me.”
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For Muffinmeow and Charming Cat, there are lessons to be learned here. Be very careful about hygiene, from keeping the place clean to carefully separating cats from human toilets and coffee cups. (Either that, or warn customers about the danger an errant feline can pose to their drinks/shirts/crotches.) Retain diligent, caring staff. And do not serve a tuna sandwich.
And when it’s your turn to go to a cat café, enjoy yourself. But, before you run wild, remember to let children play first, and be cool with the cats ignoring you. If you adopt one, train them strictly about jumping on tables and counters. Also, get a lid for your catpuccino. Yikes.