Last year, wandering around the Shimokitazawa neighborhood of Tokyo, I stumbled across the Cat Cafe Cateriam in a nondescript building in the Japanese capital's bohemian epicenter. As soon as I opened the door, I was greeted by a cheerful young woman who despite the language barrier was able to communicate that for ¥500 (around $5), I could hang out with about ten furry felines for 30 minutes.
I paid the fee, slipped off my shoes — as is the custom in Japan — and hung out with the kitty cats. Some were shy, others were playful, and a few couldn't be bothered to feign excitement. I was given toys to entice my cats for hire, and beverages and light snacks were offered for an additional charge. I declined a drink, but a young Japanese couple that joined me 15 minutes into my feline therapy session did order lattes.
Last year, Miami Beach was introduced to the concept when the Cat Café South Beach opened. While that was Miami-Dade's first-ever cat café, the feline playrooms have been popping up around the United States since 2014 in places like Meow Parlour in New York City and Cat Town in Oakland, California.
Now it will be Miami's turn when the Cat's Meow Café opens sometime later this year. Behind the concept is 31-year-old Elizabeth Gallardo, a Miami native who is fiercely passionate about cat advocacy. "I always had cats growing up," Gallardo says. "A few years ago, I got into the advocacy aspect of it. I volunteer, foster, and [trap-neuter-return]."
Gallardo's motives for opening the Cat's Meow are more altruistic than just giving people a space to cuddle up with their hired kitty companions. She's hoping to educate residents about cats. "I'm also working to reduce cat surrenders, and educating people on proper cat care and things they should look out for," she says.
Since the Cat's Meow is Miami's first cat café, Gallardo also had to educate city officials about the kind of business she intends to open. After attending the 2016 Cat Camp conference in New York City and learning the ins and outs of running a cat café, Gallardo says she's done her due diligence to assure the city her business is not a shelter or pet store.
With $16,000 raised in a Kickstarter campaign earlier this month, Gallardo says she hopes to open in a few months but is still in the permitting process with the city. Once the Cat's Meow opens, patrons can expect to go cat crazy with 15 to 20 adoptable furry friends — the maximum allowed in the available square footage per American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) regulations. All the cats will be from local shelters. Gallardo says she's still finalizing agreements with the shelters so can't specify which ones yet.
The café portion of the Cat's Meow will operate like a coffeehouse, with drinks and pastries available for purchase and free Wi-Fi for those who want to lounge around. Gallardo is still working on an agreement with a local coffee partner but says the pastries, which will be vegan and gluten-free, will be provided by Pedestal Creative Desserts.
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If you're worried about cat hair in your coffee, fret not. The coffee shop and kitty play area will be separated by a wall, with each space under its own HVAC system. That means those with allergies can still visit the Cat's Meow and watch the kitties play without coming into direct contact with them.
The first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1989, but the phenomenon is more closely associated with Japan because the concept flourished there. (In fact, Japan has gone beyond cats, also offering cafés that focus on hedgehogs, rabbits, owls, and even snakes.) The Japanese, particularly in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, live in small apartments and houses where space is at a premium. In the hectic city environment, cat cafés offer a respite from the outside world and temporary companionship. When I visited Cateriam, I couldn't help but feel cozy and relaxed. The room was comfortably warm, the decor mainly wood tones and pastel hues. The entire space, with abundant cat trees and cubbyholes, was designed with cat comfort in mind.
So while Miamians don't want for space in their homes, the Cat's Meow will still offer a therapeutic benefit against the stress of life in a city with poor transportation and a skyrocketing cost of living.
The Cat's Meow Café. 7541 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; catsmeowmia.com.