This year marks the 20th anniversary for a niche industry to delight the cat person and coffee snob in all of us: the cat café. It all started in Taipei, Taiwan at the Cat Flower Garden, where the concept of snuggling kitties while sipping on a cappuccino first came to fruition. It’s a new worldwide phenomenon that has made its way to America in recent years, starting out as a pop-up concept in New York City, then California and eventually blossoming into permanent cat cafés around the United States. Fortunately for the die-hard cat person, there’s such a venue right in Cincinnati’s own backyard — Kitty Brew Café in Mason, Ohio.
It’s worth the voyage to the northern ’burbs to experience this unorthodox pairing for yourself, but a few questions naturally come to mind: Can I just show up and start snuggling kittens on the spot? Isn’t it gross to have food service mixed with animals? What happens if I fall in love with that perfect tabby, only to have my heart broken at the end of my cat-petting hour? Fear not; your answers lay below.
How it Works
As for the experience, it’s pretty self-explanatory: It’s a coffee shop with free-range felines vying for your love and affection — or, in some cases, straight-up ignoring you in typical cat demeanor. Most places require a reservation so the kitties don’t get overwhelmed by masses of people trying to grab them. In the case of Kitty Brew, it’s about $10 to RSVP. After you reserve a spot and sign a mandatory safety waiver (the cats are fully clawed), you can come to the café at your designated time and will be allotted one hour to ogle and play with the pretty kitties.
Kitty Brew does accept walk-ins, if there’s space. Capacity is 20 people. And children under the age of 16 need a parent or guardian with them during their visit.
You can start your experience by picking from a selection of beverages supplied by Seven Hills Coffee Roasters and bakery treats made in-house and supplied by local bakeries. But you won’t find your average run-of-the-mill pumpkin spice latte at Kitty Brew; customers can indulge in various cat-themed hot, iced and blended drinks. Their specialty is scrumptious, whipped-cream-topped delicacies you drink through a straw. It’s worth the splurge at Kitty Brew, with handcrafted, cat-themed fraps like the popular Purple Catnip, lavender with espresso and hints of vanilla; or the Tuxedo, a blended coffee drink with cookies and cream.
Given the reality that there is a litter box somewhere in the building, it might make some customers a little queasy to ruminate on the cross-contamination implications. For those not too fond of the concept of an animal in the same space as your food, the façade of the café should give you some reassurance: There are two separate doors; one for the café, one for the “Cat Lounge.” In other words, it’s a strictly paws-off policy when it comes to mixing food service and animals. In fact, you have to physically walk outside to go back and forth between the Cat Lounge and the café area. Owner Jenni Barton says this keeps it safe and sanitary.
“There’s no way a cat could get into (the café area) unless somebody picked them up and carried them in,” Barton says. “We wash our hands more so than any other place because we’re making drinks all the time or we’re next door and you’re petting cats or putting on medication, and you’re constantly washing your hands. Everything is 100 percent separate. Separate rooms, separate mop heads, separate mop buckets — everything.”
The Cat Lounge
After your order’s up, slip outside and head to the Cat Lounge next door with your drink, where you’ll be greeted by up to 30 eager animals chilling in high-rise cat condos, on couches and, the vessel of choice for most cats, plain old cardboard boxes. They have free rein of the space so feel free to roam around their dwelling to find the most playful kitty. Be careful though; you signed a safety waiver for a reason. Snuggle and play to your heart’s content — just make sure to ask before you pick one up.
The Adoption Process
But what happens when you find a whiskered friend you just can’t live without? Luckily, a staple of cat cafés is the ability to adopt. If you find a cat you want to keep, you can apply to adopt the animal right there through Animal Friends Humane Society. It will take 24 hours or less to hear back. If there are multiple applications for the same cat, they’ll be evaluated on a first-come, first-served basis.
That connection you make with that adorable calico in the corner, Barton says, is vital to a successful life for a cat.
“It’s a 15- to 20-year commitment. The better of an idea that you have of their personality and how they’re going to interact with children and other cats is really important to know,” she says. “I’m not saying you can’t get that interaction at a shelter — you most certainly can — I just think here, it’s a lot less stress.”
Since opening its doors in April 2017, Kitty Brew has found homes for 454 cats and counting — which tallies to roughly 1.6 cats per day on average. Even with adoptions happening left and right, Barton says she’s not leaving new pet owners out in the dark.
“We always tell them, when they leave, if they have a question or a concern, give us a call,” Barton says. “We don’t just adopt out cats and say, ‘Good luck with that.’ We try to be here for the long haul for them.”
Other Cat Cafés
If you’re looking far and wide for that perfect kitty you’ve been dreaming of, there are a few other spots in the Buckeye State that can aide you in your pursuit.
Eat, Purr, Love Cat Café: It’s Central Ohio’s first cat café, in operation since mid-2016. Located in the Columbus neighborhood of Clintonville just around the corner from Ohio State University, Eat, Purr, Love has about a dozen cats roaming their Cat Lounge at a time, giving the kitties designated human-free zones and cat nap time for the most humane experience possible. You won’t find any kittens here; they get all adult cats from Columbus Humane to ensure that those animals get the star treatment — just like adorable baby kittens. eatpurrlovecatcafe.com
Coffee Cat Corner: Situated just northeast of Columbus in Gahanna, Coffee Cat Corner was previously known as Coffee Time Bakery & Café before they decided to upgrade the space to include a feline presence. Coffee Cat Corner has the traditional cat café set-up, but makes a point to specialize in their coffee department, offering products from local small-batch roaster, Thunderkiss. Sip on classic espresso and coffee drinks while you check out their rotating five-cat lounge. coffeecatcorner.biz
Gem City Catfé: If you’re the odd man out in your majority cat-person friend group, Gem City Café in Dayton might be your best bet. Sit in the café area and watch from afar while your gang plays with the kitties, and then head upstairs to quell the boredom and check out an art gallery featuring local artists. And, if allergies are your problem, the two spaces have completely different HVAC systems — eliminating any chance of getting the sniffles from the kitties. gemcitycatfe.com
Kitty Brew Cafe is located at 6011 Tylersville Road, Mason. More info: kittybrew.com.