On Saturday I headed to a cavernous old building just off Pioneer Square, in the shadow of the viaduct, and stood in line until I was ushered into a dimly lit room within. It would be way cooler to tell you I was here for a warehouse rave, but it was 9:30 in the morning and I had shelled out $10 for 30 minutes at a popup cat cafe.
The cat cafe is an Asia-originated trend that recently hopped the Pacific. A few U.S. cities now have these coffee shops stocked with cuddle-seeking felines, many of whom are adoptable. Seattle has two groups working to open permanent cat cafes; this weekend's popup gave fans a taste of cat cafe life and provided a sort of dress rehearsal for one of these enterprises, the excellently named Seattle Meowtropolitan.
The first rule of cat cafe: Do not bring your actual cat. All attendees had to sign a waiver to this effect; the document also mandated respectful cat behavior and required the signor to acknowledge "that cats, even under the best of circumstances, may be unpredictable, may bite or scratch, and may transmit zoonotic diseases."
After handing my signed document to an organizer, I was beckoned into a brick-walled room, adorned with a string of white lights and multiple cat climbing gyms. In the center of the room, small round tables added cafe ambience; each one had a small centerpiece that included a bottle of hand sanitizer. Upstairs, staff dispensed coffee, tea, and cookies in the shape of cats.
I had imagined my allotted 30 minutes spent cavorting with playful kittens. The reality was more like being a wallflower at an orgy. There were approximately a dozen cats and...maybe 25 people? This led to some uncertainty about cat cafe etiquette. If some dude is scratching a tabby behind its ears and you sidle up and stroke its back, did you just make things awkward? Is it creepy if you just stand against the wall and watch as someone waggles a cat toy before a precocious Siamese?
It was Valentine's Day and there were plenty of couples in the room (and lots of cat-themed apparel), but it's still easy to liken the experience to a singles bar. You're there seeking brief, anonymous physical contact and you have to politely maneuver within a room full of other potential suitors.
I started off easy, approaching a black longhair fast asleep in a carpeted cat tower; apparently the first few waves of visitors had tired him out. Or maybe it's a her; we kept things casual. A skinny tuxedo-patterned kitten stalked by me, so I followed it for a minute, fingers outstretched, but it kept walking and then I just looked desperate.
But judging from the interactions happening around me, the cats were generally amenable to being picked up and snuggled. They were very amenable to people waving those cat toys on sticks which were placed around the room. Much like dating, a fulfilling cat cafe experience requires a particular mix of confidence and feigned indifference.
At the end of 30 minutes, the organizers politely told everyone it was time to leave. We trooped out of the room, past the line of people awaiting the 10am session. The two-day popup sold out in about a week.
I headed home where Florence, the soft Russian Blue we adopted from the Humane Society nearly four years ago, presented herself for adoration and also to sniff me accusingly. Romping with kittens was a thrill, but the other half of the cat cafe equation is promoting pet adoption. And indeed, after a morning of anonymous cat congress, I appreciated returning to my monogamous feline relationship, no waivers or hourly rates required.