Keeping it in the room: health, happiness and living in Berlin
About a year ago, we read about someone called Lauren Pears, who wanted to raise money to open a cat café using crowdsourcing: £108,000, to be precise. We weren’t sure they’d manage it, but it turns out that people are even bigger fans of cats than we thought – she broke her target by over £1,000, and in record time too!
The café was set up by Lauren Pears, who had been a senior project manager at Sony. She’d taken in some rescue cats in her time, and realised how much people love their furry friends. So she talked to the local environmental health department and they were happy for the café to open, provided that the cats couldn’t get to the kitchen area. From there, it was just a case of fitting out a double shop with a wide range of cat-friendly accoutrements – shelves, boxes, hiding places – and find 15 young and boisterous kitties.
The opening date was announced and booking system set up – which promptly crashed under the strain! And even though they don’t have a licence to heat food, 14,000 people have already booked for the next three months. Luckily, Pears told So So Gay that we were welcome, even though she’d already turned away the country’s biggest media outlets, including the BBC and ITV. ‘The Sun doesn’t like me very much,’ she confided.
Customers enter via a small, pink, foyer area, where some food and drink are on display – if it was a regular café you’d probably be unimpressed. The selections are uninspiring, and although they’ve had trouble with one of their suppliers being unreliable, we think they could have tried harder to find someone else who could deliver – other cafés manage!
You are ushered into a small room between the foyer and main café area to pay a £5 entry fee, and told the ground rules: wash your hands before you go in; don’t feed the cats anything off your plate; don’t annoy them by holding them and stopping them from running off; and leave them alone when they’re sleeping. We were already worried – since most cats’ favourite thing is to sleep most of the time, this was looking like it was going to be pretty disappointing.
In the bright and airy main upstairs room, we saw two or three cats, and selected a table by the window. With hard floors, wooden furniture and a giant window, this certainly didn’t feel as comfortable as it might, but then we didn’t come to sit and chat – we came to stroke cats! The lower ground floor was a much larger area and was fitted out with plenty of comfy sofas, tables and bookshelves for both you and the cats to use. It still felt like a converted shop, though, rather than a comfy tea room, which we thought they were trying to go for.
It looked down here like there were cats everywhere downstairs – and since we were the first customers of the day, they were in full on play mood!
The friendly staff stand ready to hand people toys, pointing out which cats prefer which plaything, and tell you their names (which you’ll promptly forget!) and about their personalities – this one likes being ticked just here, another one likes being groomed with a particular comb, and so on. A big box on a low table is filled with all sorts of things to entertain the cats – feathers on pieces of string, or dangly things. The funniest thing is when you’re trying to tempt a cat to play, and another charges over from behind you grabs the toy while the first continues to looks on, trying to make a decision whether it can be bothered.
Someone came to take our orders, and we ordered a cup of tea; the food menu wasn’t yet printed, so we had to wait a little while before we could order anything to eat. When it did arrive, it featured nothing special or tempting. The tea came in a bone china cup, but European style – as a cup of quite hot water and a separate strainer full of loose tea, which meant that even after we’d persuaded it to brew, it was still almost undrinkable. The scone that we ordered came with jam (and would also have had clotted cream if we hadn’t been thinking of how many extra minutes would be needed in the gym later) and was okay, but no more than that.
The lack of food heating facilities is clearly hampering them – but since we all knew we were only there for the cats, it didn’t matter. There was no pressure on anyone to order anything, and they didn’t come round for a second time to take any orders, despite us staying the maximum two hours allotted to us. We were offered and accepted a top up of hot water, but that never appeared.
Small groups of customers arrive in booked slots 15 minutes apart, so as not to alarm the cats – the first at 11.00. There’s a quiet period during the afternoon so that the cats can get a little rest, although after playing for a couple hours, they mostly found a quiet spot in which to fall asleep. We felt sorry for the next people to come in, who would be able to only watch, and not interact with the cats.
The cats don’t get to go outside at all, something which many cat owners would have a problem with; but since they’re being entertained from 11pm until 9pm every day, Lauren and her staff reckon they have enough to do; and, judging by the fact that when they arrive for work every morning, most of the furniture is usually tipped up and objects scattered around the room, they’re clearly having fun while the humans are in bed. The plan is to build a run in the outside courtyard at the back, but since the door to the outside is a fire door, the council weren’t keen to see a cat flap in it.
We loved going to see the cats; we loved the food and drink a lot less. But with the place fully booked for months, they probably don’t care about that too much.
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is at 152-154 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 6DG. We think they’re in Bethnal Green, and Londoners are divided as to which is cooler, but since they say they’re in Shoreditch, feel free to wear skinny jeans and have a sleeve tattoo. Booking is essential, via their website.
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