With all the heavy news these days, here’s a piece of plush – the furry, furry kind. Seattle Meowtropolitan Cafe is Washington’s premier cat cafe, a place where you can have coffee, hang out with cats, and maybe adopt one.
The pandemic has forced the store to temporarily stop serving coffee. But the cat lounge is open for petting appointments.
One recent Friday afternoon, University of Washington student Wanling Kratzman and her friend wait until they can enter the cat lounge.
“I was looking to de-stress before my summer finals,” Kratzman said. “I was looking for things to do in Seattle that were hit or miss, and it happened.”
Nearby, Ian Sipe is also excited. He’s from Fort Wayne, Indiana. “We don’t have anything like that, so I thought it would be fun to check it out,” he said. Before they’re introduced, manager John Fan goes over some ground rules.
“So rule number one, please don’t pick up any of the cats. There are a few who are not fans of being detained. Let the cats roam free. Let them do their thing.
It’s okay if the cats jump on your lap, Fan adds. Caresses are strongly encouraged. You can also play with them using the toys provided.
“The last rule is to just respect all the cats in there and that means a lot of things. Understand that even if you have cats at home or have grown up with cats, the signs they are giving you [are] is going to be a little different because our cats don’t have that special bond with you yet.
And to help visitors, there are chat language cards on all tables for reference.
With that, Fan leads them through the double doors of the cat lounge. The living room clearly belongs to the cats. They are everywhere, on tables or perched on cat trees. Some hide in play tunnels. The curious approach the visitors. You can see the different personalities. There’s Fred, who is cream colored and outgoing. His brother George is more reserved. There is a gray and white cat named Clouds who finds a willing turn and purrs in contentment.
If this sounds like cat heaven, that’s exactly what Andrew Hsieh had in mind when he opened the cafe with three friends in 2015.
“My vision was Disneyland for cats,” Hsieh said.
Inspiration came from cat cafes which were popular in Asia. But the cats there belonged to the cafes. Hsieh wanted a place where people could visit and possibly adopt the cats.
“It turns out you can work with local shelters and shelters and house homeless cats,” Hsieh said. “With this setup, cats roam with other cats and other people. People kind of get to know cats on a more natural level.
Seattle Meowtropolitan has a mix of nine resident cats and a handful more that are up for adoption by King County Regional Animal Services. Everything worked well for cats and humans. Then the pandemic forced the cafe to close.
Hsieh reused the cafe side of the store to sew masks and sold them online. It also allowed her to spend time with cats who craved human attention.
“They used to play with people for several hours a day and all the time. And so during the shutdown, every time I go inside on the cats side while pausing to do things on that side, they were like, all over you.
When it was possible to reopen safely, people started to enter. The pandemic had caused a shortage of refuge animals. So people had their cats here while they waited for their own adoptions to come to fruition. Hsieh hopes to reopen the cafe when the time comes.
Back at the cat lounge, it’s dinner time and the cats are given bowls of kibble. With a few minutes left to reserve, Wanling Kratzman strokes Oreo, an up-to-date shelter cat.
“I might want to come back,” she said.
It’s hard not to leave the cat lounge without smiling. Hsieh says that in stressful times like these, petting cats is soothing. Cats do their own thing no matter what is going on in the world. They remind us to live in the moment.
“Sometimes life is tough,” Hsieh said. “And when life is tough and a cat crosses your path, don’t forget to pet it.”