Not much can make four-year-olds focus on what is in front of them. But a class of preschoolers taking a walk did just that when they passed two cats snuggling and stretching on a windowsill.
This domestic scene was not taking place in someone’s home, but rather in the front window of Meow Parlour, one of two cat cafés in the city, where cat lovers with allergic significant others (or strict co-op boards) can indulge their affection for felines while sipping coffee and eating pastries.
The first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998, followed by more in Japan, where they became hugely popular. Now the trend has moved to New York — specifically to the Lower East Side — where both Meow Parlour and Koneko are located. (Another café, Little Lions, will open soon a few blocks away on Grand Street in Soho.)
There are some noticeable differences between cat cafés in Japan and America. Simon McGown, an architect whose firm Co-Office designed Koneko, noted that unlike their Japanese counterparts, the NYC breed of cat cafés are paired with cat adoption agencies, and the goal is to get the cats adopted. This was a principle that McGown used when designing Koneko to make it a space where “people can enjoy their time with the cats, but ultimately just adopt the cats too.”
Still, Christina Ha, co-founder of Meow Parlour and founder of the popular bakery Macaron Parlour, notes that adopting a cat can be a hard sell. “It’s very easy to say, ‘You should have this cookie, it’s delicious.’ It’s much harder to say, ‘You should have this animal for the next 20 years of your life.’ ”
However, she and Benjamin Kalb, the founder of Koneko, have seen a lot of their cats get adopted. Ha says Meow Parlour has had 80 adoptions since it opened last year, and Kalb estimates that Koneko has had one to two adoptions per week since opening in late October. Ha and Kalb both attribute their success to the comfort that comes from spending time with cats in the cozy and intimate environments of the cafés.
Even if you’re not in a position to adopt a cat, there is more to do at the cat cafés than just sip tea and pet the animals; Meow Parlour, for instance, offers yoga classes among the cats who sit (and no doubt judge your downward-facing dog). Koneko has a gallery of artwork from artists like Shepard Fairey, and Kalb is planning to host events like cat-themed movie nights.
But, no surprise, the main attraction for most visitors to the cat cafés is the furry creatures themselves. “At cat cafés, people really go for the cats,” Kalb says, “so you could have the most beautiful chair in the world, but if one of the cats is sitting in a cardboard box, people will go to the cardboard box.”