Australia's first cat cafe opened in Melbourne earlier this year, the result of a successful crowd-funding campaign. The novel idea, which was imported from Japan, is quite like a strip club of cats. You pay to sit among the cats for an hour, awaiting affection that the cats may or may not choose to lavish upon you.
The much-hyped cafe has been open since mid-2014, so the excitement has died down somewhat and it is now easy to get a booking. In contrast to their early days, in which they were booked out for months in advance, I was able to book online on a whim, on the day I wanted to go. There were less than ten other visitors in the 6pm slot on a Monday evening, and there were about seven or eight cats roaming around. The cats have access to their own little haven behind cat doors, so not all cats are present at all times.
If you are picturing lying on the floor in a stupor of happiness while lively kitties climb all over you, you would be slightly mistaken. Instead, the Cat Cafe is an eerily silent series of rooms with mainly sleeping cats. Some cats walk around, but they rarely approach visitors.
A visit costs ten dollars per person per hour, just to bask in the cats' company. Considering that they do not allow more than fifteen guests at a time, this seems to be a meagre amount to pay.
Once you ascend the stairs (after giving your hands a good wash, of course), there is a series of four rooms coming off a main hallway. There is one main room, which has a large couch and a table with two chairs to accommodate humans, and an array of cat furniture. Then there are three smaller rooms, each with one couch. One room has a bookcase with books, including many cat-related titles, and another has a Nintendo Wii connected up to a television, in case you are bored by the feline attractions. The Cat Cafe is populated with eleven cats; all of which came from shelters and were selected for their temperaments. All of the cats appear to be in good health, with plump bellies and shiny coats. I was amazed by Lynx, who is easily the biggest domestic cat I have ever seen.
Cats are notoriously clean creatures, but it appears that they have had plenty of help in keeping their home tidy. The Cat Cafe did not smell in the slightest (litter boxes are out of sight in a room accessible only to the cats), and there were no tumbleweeds of fur. All rugs seemed clean.
There was an awkward atmosphere at the Cat Cafe. It felt almost intrusive to walk into a room of people avidly watching the sleeping cats. There was no ambient music, and the space was so quiet that I was conscious of the sound of my wedge heels on the floorboards. Being in the Cat Cafe was akin to standing around in someone else's lounge room with strangers who have colonised the couch and monopolised all the cats that weren't sleeping. Certainly it was the cats' lounge room, and I admire the efforts of the owners to put the cats' welfare first. However, a little music and another couch or two in the main room would not have gone astray.
Only the cats are well fed at the Cat Cafe. You would not bother going there if it is just for the food. There are snacks and drinks available, but they are all quite basic items such as packaged cookies and juice boxes. The coffee comes from a vending machine; there is no barista. Coffee snobs would be better off ordering a refreshing soft drink instead.
I recommend having a read through the FAQs on their website ahead of your visit, to avoid disappointment. A number of poor reviews on their Facebook page complain about issues such as not being able to adopt the cats and not having proper food. From even the most cursory look at the Cat Cafe website, it is apparent that the main focus is the cats and that they are not for sale, as this would be too disruptive to the equilibrium of cats they have created.
The most important points from their website to be aware of are:
They only serve snacks rather than substantial food
You may not adopt the cats from the cafe
You must be respectful to the cats; no waking up sleeping cats or picking them up without permission
No children under eight are permitted in the Cat Cafe
Overall, the Cat Cafe was an interesting experience but I would not do it more than once. Despite the session being an hour long, we only stayed for about forty minutes, as watching cats sleep gets old quickly. It helped that my expectations were moderated by knowing a lot about it before I went. Visitors should be aware that adult cats are not always the most playful creatures, so your time at the Cat Cafe will mostly be spent cat watching with occasional pats.
Lexi, looking an awful lot like an eggplant if you cover her ears.