Dog-friendly coffee shops aren’t an uncommon concept in Greater Cincinnati, but cat cafés — where you can both indulge in a cup of fair-trade brew and interact with free-roaming adoptable felines — are a completely different animal, so to speak. And we have two of these adorably caffeinated feline enterprises less than an hour’s drive from the city center: the Gem City Catfé in Dayton, Ohio, which opened in January 2018, and the Kitty Brew Café in Mason, which opened in April 2017.
Cat cafés originated in Asia in the late ’90s and early 2000s as a sort of touristy respite for lonely and stressed urbanites; think pet therapy with refreshments. The concept then spread to Europe before landing in America, where the first café opened in California in 2014. But unlike the kitty petting zoos found in other parts of the world, American cat cafés focus on adopting out animals in need — and completely separate food/drink areas. (Thanks, U.S. health departments!)
“A cat café basically encompasses everything coffee and cats,” says Rachel Smith, general manager of Gem City Catfé. “We have a whole coffee side that the kitties are not on and then, through our nonprofit Gem City Kitties, it’s going to be a totally different cat lounge section. You can see the kitties through storefront glass, so if you’re allergic or if you want to hangout but not have the kitties crawl all over you and hang out on your laptop, you can just sit on the coffee side.”
It’s a perfect mix for those looking to find a new pet in a low-stress environment — for themselves and the cats; for those interested in enjoying a cup of coffee while watching the antics of funny felines; and even for those who love cats but may not be able to own one for myriad reasons, even, as Smith says, allergies.
And although they may have root similarities, each cat café has its own unique features.
Gem City Catfé
Gem City’s café not only serves coffee, tea and espresso beverages, they also have a menu of sweets and snacks, plus wine and seasonal cocktails — all of which you can take into the lounge.
“You can bring any beverage into the cat lounge, you just have to promise not to share with any of the kitties,” Smith says. “They are very naughty and they will try to steal all of your food and drinks, so we actually put everything in cat-friendly drink tumblers.”
The Cat Lounge
“A lot of people come in thinking that they’re not really cat people — they’ve met cats before, they just haven’t met a very nice kitty maybe in the past, so this is a really good opportunity for them to come in and interact with the kitties almost in a home setting because the lounge is super comfortable and relaxing,” Smith says. “It’s kind of like a more one-on-one interaction with the kitties.”
Gem City’s lounge houses 18 cats at a time (the amount allotted by the city of Dayton), two of whom are permanent residents and the rest of whom are up for adoption through Gem City Kitties.
The lounge features “vertical enrichment,” a cat trapeze, a replica Wright Flyer (airplane), comfortable seating areas for humans and bar space.
“The coffee side is under Gem City Catfé; it’s our LLC. And the other side is Gem City Kitties; it’s our 501(c)(3) nonprofit we formed almost three years ago,” Smith says. “We work primarily with municipal shelters that have an open-intake policy, which means that any cat that comes to their door they have to take in. Unfortunately, if they don’t have a kennel spot for those kitties, those cats are euthanized because of space.”
Gem City Kitties’s current goal aligns with the Best Friends Animal Society standards. “They are wanting the United States to be no-kill by 2025, so we are doing everything in our power to help them and help that be a reality,” Smith says.
See currently adoptable cats and fill out your application online at gemcitykitties.org. After you fill out your application, you can meet with a Gem City Purrista to go over the app, adoption process and fees (there’s an $85 adoption fee to help cover the cost of caring for the cats). “We want the kitties to find forever homes quickly and easily,” Smith says.
All cats are spayed, neutered, vaccinated and microchipped before adoption. Full adoption details are online, as are kitty resources (including those for caring for community cats aka feral cats). Gem City also commits to a follow-up to help with any issues that arise within the first week of adoption.
Gem City Kitties is in the process of expanding its mission of helping America go no-kill by 2025 by opening Gem City Vet, a low-cost spay/neuter and vet clinic for cats and dogs slated to open near West Dayton/Trotwood in summer 2020.
Regardless of whether you want to adopt or just interact with the cats, it’s best to make a reservation online.
“The biggest thing is we always, always, always, always recommend is booking online before coming in,” Smith says. “We’re only allowed 12 people in the lounge per hour and operate on first of the hour reservations, so especially if you’re going to come during crazy busy weekends or evenings, which tend to be the busiest time for us, we hate turning people away because we don’t have space.”
People can make reservations online and walk-ins are accepted if space is available. Cat lounge entry is $10 or $5 for members (membership is $25 per year) and their guests. You must sign a waiver before entering the lounge for the first time. Minors must have a parent sign their waiver. Detailed information is available online.
Gem City Catfe is located at 1513 E. Fifth St., Dayton, Ohio, gemcitycatfe.com, gemcitykitties.org.
Kitty Brew Café
“We have a wide variety of locally roasted, organic coffees and teas,” writes owner Jenni Barrett of the Kitty Brew Café in an email. The coffee comes from local Seven Hills Coffee and Kitty Brew also serves themed, creamy drinks like the Oh, Hello Kitty with strawberry and vanilla bean. The cat lounge is a completely separate space from the café — in fact, after you grab your latte or cat-shaped cookie, you have to walk back outside and in a separate door to enter the cat lounge.
The Cat Lounge
“I saw a cat café pitched on Shark Tank and it sounded like a wonderful idea,” writes Barrett. “It took 18 months from idea to taking our first reservation.”
Kitty Brew has 32 available cats in their 1,900-square-foot lounge, all of whom you can watch 24/7 on a live stream at kittybrew.com.
“We get cats from Animal Friends Humane Society, Paws Cause, HART, His Hands Extended Sanctuary and Clermont County CARE,” Barrett writes.
So far, she estimates Kitty Brew has adopted out 1,800 cats.
“I love cats and dogs equally. Cats are much easier to house and a bit more predictable than dogs. Cats are also euthanized in shelters more frequently than dogs,” she says of why she chose to help the feline population.
If you’re interested in adopting from Kitty Brew, fill out a pre-adoption questionnaire online and bring it to the café or email it and it will be sent to the relevant rescue. Potential adopters will be contacted within 24 hours, unless the cat has another application. In that case, adopters will be contacted on a first-come, first-served basis. Fees are dependent on the different agencies ($10-$80). All cats are spayed, neutered, vaccinated, blood tested, treated for fleas and parasites and microchipped before adoption. More fine print is available online.
“We encourage reservations because we do get busy,” Barrett writes. It’s a $10 fee to visit the Kitty Brew lounge for one hour. Monthly membership starts at $40 and includes unlimited lounge visits and special café discounts. Walk-ins are always welcome and granted lounge access on a first-come, first-served basis. Capacity is 20 people. Minors will need to have a parent or guardian sign off before they enter the cat lounge. Check out the online calendar for special theme events like cat yoga and discounted kids nights on Wednesdays.
Kitty Brew Cafe is located at 6011 Tylersville Road, Suite 6-7, Mason, kittybrew.com.