Regarding cat cafes, that white-hot Japanese trend currently pawing its way onto our shores: It turns out, you can build them and even ply patrons with beer, but there’s no making Keanu play along. Wave all the flashy balls and furry gewgaws you want, but if the feline with the Oreo-cookie coloring does not want to budge, he will not budge.
It’s practically Cat 101. And yet you could nevertheless feel the faint twinge of disappointment in the air (along with, um, a slight odor) Thursday evening, when the Rock & Roll Hotel hosted the city’s first cat cafe.
Modeled after Japanese teahouses that allow patrons to play with furballs without signing on for feedings and litter duty and vet bills, this one, on H Street NE, was a one-night only affair, with Tecate and holiday music and 10 cats a-lounging for the amusement of cat lovers and the curious.
“I kind of expected, maybe, lots and lots of cats,” confessed Ruth Jonkman of Rockville. She had watched a video from Japan, where, she says, “There were just cats everywhere, and you could feed them and play with them.” So she took the train to Northeast Washington on a weeknight, only to find the handful of cats and Keanu — adorable, diffident Keanu — not quite what she’d imagined.
The kitten express, however, is already rolling: New York just saw the opening of Meow Parlour, where cat-obsessives can rent time with the interim pets for $4 per half hour, a small price to pay for cuddles. Oakland, Calif., has Cat Town, and Los Angeles is waiting for Catfe, which popped up in October for four days with a litter of pouncing kittens; never mind that that city’s cat population already roams the streets like flower children, free for anyone to pet and admire. Even the District could soon have a bakery-slash-cat-jungle, though it doesn’t have a location or most other details quite worked out yet.
In almost every case, the cats can also be adopted and taken home. And almost everyone at Thursday’s pop-up cafe, held with the Washington Humane Society, was maybe, possibly in the market for a cat to call their own. Something fuzzy and loyal, a pet that accepts their limitless supply of love and catnip carrots and reciprocates with a mixture of tolerance and petulance — and sometimes, vomit.
Lawrence Coig popped over from his job at Toki Underground to look for such a pet, and he may have found one in Persia, a sassy charmer with a fluffy tail who reminded him of a cat he had when he was growing up. “No problem having a few drinks,” he said. “I feel like it’s definitely going to induce the desire to adopt.” But it did leave the matter of getting her, or another cat, home. Cab? Bus? “I don’t think the kitty would like the X2,” Coig mused.
For Michael Antonucci, who came with his wife, Mary, their visit to the cafe was mostly a cat-on-the-side thing. They have cats at home, and Mary, he said with a giggle, might have been unnecessarily chilly with them on the way out the door: “She told them we were going to play with other cats who are better looking, and younger.”
“We have a very bad cat,” Mary confirmed. “We adore him, but he’s very bad.”
Not since they were domesticated and revered by the ancient Egyptians have our feline friends had it so good. People spend their days clicking on cat gifts. A dwarf furball with a permanent pout may or may not be a $100 million business. One can even, on occasion, Uber some kitties to the office.
The latter, in a roundabout way, is the reason Washington got a pop-up at all. Thwarted in his attempt to Uber some pusses on National Cat Day (too much demand for all that cuteness), Jason Martin, a co-owner of Rock & Roll Hotel and several other H Street venues, landed on the idea of hosting a cat cafe.
Lauren Lipsey, the Humane Society’s director of re-homing, recalls that Martin’s call to her went something like this: “Hey, I want to do a cat pop-up cafe. I want people to just hang out with the cats and have toys all the way around the room, and you, know, have a happy hour.”
Lipsey’s response: “Um.”
At that point, Lipsey recalls, she was picturing cats walking on the bar, cats running out onto H Street, and any number of other scenarios. Martin offered to put up a baby gate. “And I was like, cats can climb and jump over baby gates,” she says. (It’s important to note that Martin is a lot of things, including a co-owner of many bars and restaurants and a self-described “cat enthusiast.” What he isn’t currently is a cat owner.)
With several hundred cats in the agency’s system and looking for homes, however, she was willing to give the venue a look. The cats ended up lounging in the venue’s VIP rooms, which are upstairs and closed off.
Martin, Lipsey said, “was able to convince me that he had the cats’ welfare in mind.”
In the end, the Humane Society reported, happily, that a handful of cafe-goers took home adoption applications.
For the cats it was excellent exposure. But after all the playing and posing and charming? They all looked like they were ready for a good cat nap.