Finding Furvana: In A World Aching For Comfort, Cat Cafés Come To The Fore

Lounging felines enjoy the mid-day calm at Koneko, an appointment-only NYC-based cat café.

I have lived with several Zen masters -- all of them cats. ~ Eckhart Tolle Click To Tweet

Affection is a core need of humans everywhere, and one which has launched numerous businesses throughout history, (including, of course, what many have dubbed ‘the oldest profession’), but the latest incarnation may just be the most delightful: The Cat Café.

It only takes a moment to realize how brilliant this idea is. It’s hard to go wrong commodifying the food/comfort fusion that café and cat bring to consumers in general, not to mention those of us who are woefully allergic (including the author) who cannot live with cats but adore them.

Although not officially recognized as deities, it would be equally difficult to deny the fervent, near-religious love many of us have for cats. It takes only a quick look at the history of ancient Egypt to know cat worship is nothing new. Bastet was a half-female half-feline goddess, and Egyptians harshly punished anyone who harmed or killed a cat. Today, feline celebrities Maru and Grumpy Cat, along with many others, beam the gospel of their presence and antics to enthralled masses on the world digital stage from their YouTube pulpit.

Given this, I was not surprised (though no less delighted) to find out that these modern cafés (that are no less of a form of worship) are indeed a ‘thing’. Though I am embarrassed to admit I completely believed the hoax press release from April 2015 claiming a nightclub/cat café combo was set to open in Japan where patrons could dance and drink in the club’s main area, then come to unwind or seek solace from amorous rejection with kitties. (Guaranteed affectionate contact! Although perhaps not from the target species, but hey, jilted club-goers will take what they can get.) 

But alas, nightclubs that include cats have yet to become their own ‘thing’. The cat café, on the other hand, appears to be here to stay. And believe it or not, it’s not a new idea. One can trace its four-legged roots back to Taipei, Taiwan where Cat Flower Garden opened in 1998. After quickly becoming a tourist attraction for visitors the world over, the java-paws concept expanded rapidly throughout Japan and across the globe, becoming the ‘meow heard round the world’ capturing and delighting an untapped market: young, stressed working people prohibited by their landlords from owning cats.

Bastet, Egyptian Feline Goddess

Some of today’s most popular? Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in England, Tot in Toronto, Koneko in NYC’s Lower East side, The Cat Café in San Diego and Maison De Moggy in Edinburgh. 

I’m NYC-based, so I went ahead and made a reservation at Koneko, an elegant venue with a long chrome bar offering pastries and coffee as both prelude and afterlude to the main furry event.

After arriving, awash with the joy of a dream about to come true, I removed my shoes, donned plushy white slippers in the anteroom, and entered rent-by-the-hour feline paradise.

I was greeted by a glass-walled room with cat-friendly graduated shelves and square red cushions that offered ample real estate to about ten cats, lolling around in various states of half-wakefulness. It wasn’t too crowded and the room had a feel of easy spaciousness. (“Cattery Assistants” oversee guests, letting in only a few at a time.) Across from me was a woman kneeling and gently petting Amali, a sweet, small-framed black and white tuxedo female.  

I took a seat and watched as these fine creatures swaggered about the room, waiting to see if I would be approached. I was. Thomas, a large tabby whose pale khaki-gold fur shone out from underneath a latticework of black stripes wandered over and offered his chin, gently pressing it against my leg. After some preliminary stroking, he crawled into my lap and kneaded my stomach with his claws. Happily, I tolerated the pinprick pain as one must, of course, suffer for love. Seemingly besotted, he nursed at my shirt, pushed his head into my hand and purred against me. Staring up into my eyes, he reached up to touch my face with his paw, purring steadily. We were Madonna and furry child.

“He really likes you. He doesn’t do that with everybody,” remarked one of the cattery assistants.

As we chatted, I came to learn the strife-to-sanctuary stories of Remy, a nervous calico with a few chunks taken out of her ears who kept attacking her own tail until it eventually had to be amputated. She exchanged playful swats with Sammy, a scrappy tabby as we looked on. Off on an isolated single shelf across the room sat Arthur, a distinguished tuxedo prudently sequestered in silence, napping above the rest of the feline fray. 

When my reservation ended at 2pm, it was time for my furry friend’s lunch and he hopped off my lap without so much as a purr goodbye. My one-hour soulmate it seemed, was a fickle and cruelly premeditated compartmentalizer. I knew where I stood.

Freud once said: “Time spent with cats is never wasted.” And for those of us who are hopelessly in love, they add a dimension and joy to our lives that might not otherwise be possible.

To top it all off? Each of Koneko’s cats are available for adoption. I wasn’t surprised, then, to hear that two people had already applied for Thomas at the time of my visit. He was adopted in July of last year.