Since the news broke that, following Japan (and Berlin), London would be getting its own cat café, anticipation has been building. Cat lovers can now finally cross the threshold of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium over in Hackney.
Despite over 14,000 bookings already registered till the end of July, we managed to grab a slot this week to see what the fuss was all about, and stroke a willing pussy or two.
Adjacent to the reception-cum-kitchen is the small room where we paid our £5 cover charge, washed our hands and were instructed in the four basic rules we would have to follow once let loose on the cats: no flash with your photos, no feeding the cats, no holding/carrying them and leave them alone when they want to sleep.
We were then admitted into the holy of holies. In our excitement to get at the cats, our first instinct was to dump our stuff at one of the large tables cramping the slightly gloomy ground floor room — but further exploration revealed the large basement to be much more welcoming and cosy. The warmer colours and deep sofas proved to be the dog’s proverbial and eventually led to something almost unheard of: conversation breaking out between unacquainted visitors.
The expression ‘herding cats’ rarely seemed more apt than when considering the task facing the staff. They managed to remain very relaxed and friendly when trying to get customers to order food and beverages as we clambered around the room adoring the feline residents.
Eventually refreshments were ordered and delivered but it felt a little odd to be handed a cup of lukewarm water to tip our tea into, rather than a proper tea pot. Thankfully, all of us were much more interested in interacting with the cats, who seemed to be in a playful mood when we arrived.
They didn’t really want to be touched, but were quite happy to play with the many toys on offer. They also seemed strangely oblivious to human noises and calls and most of the time felt like they tolerated interaction rather than really looking for it. Slowly, though, they mellowed down and by the time we left, after a couple of hours, most of them were asleep.
The cats and their wellbeing truly appear to be at the centre of the enterprise. They are the ones setting the agenda, as it should indeed be, but we can imagine that someone turning up during a ‘downtime’ period could feel cheated.
As we walked away with a nagging lack of contentment and cat hair on our trousers, we couldn’t help but wonder if the obvious early success would last beyond the novelty effect.