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SXSW

As SXSW Beckons, Cat Café Ambitions Are Finally Realized

Hells yeah, I'll sign a waiver agreeing to be around cats, and maybe pet them.

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Years ago, I heard about this little business in Tokyo: a café for cat people who for whatever reason couldn’t have their own feline. It was called a "cat café."

I knew this was a great idea and thought to myself that I needed to open a cat café in San Francisco, a place surely full of apartment dwellers with cruel landlords who didn’t care that they were starving for some kitty lovin’.

Flash forward, of course, to the explosion of cat cafés in cities like San Francisco, New York, Paris, and elsewhere. How many of them do I own? Zero.

Yet even as cat cafés popped up in all these places, I never managed to stop in at any of them. Disclaimer: I have two cats, so perhaps a visit was a little less urgent for me. Still, I’m one of the world’s major cat people, and I’m always happy to meet a new one, or two, or three.

Today, in Austin, getting myself ready for SXSW, I finally got a chance to realize my cat café ambitions. Just a few blocks from where I’m staying, the Blue Cat Café opened for business last October. I’m guessing they’re going to be overrun this week, once everyone hits town. I was lucky to drop by when things were still relatively peaceful.

In California, sensible-enough rules mandate that cat cafés need to keep the felines and the food/drink in separate areas. Health codes. What can you do. Frankly, though, that might be one of the reasons I never visited: It kind of breaks the spell if you have to drink your coffee and then go play with the cats. That’s kind of silly.

But here in Austin, cats and provisions are intermingled, and everyone looked happy. When I arrived at the Blue Cat Café, I actually had to sign a waiver before they let me in. It began, "As a patron of the Blue Cat Café, I choose to be surrounded by cats, maybe touch them...I do this even though (or because) I realize cats are mischievous."

It goes on, of course, with lots of bits about agreeing you might get bitten or clawed. I mean, hey, these are cats, after all.

Let’s be honest, though. You had me at "As a patron of the Blue Cat Café, I choose to be surrounded by cats, maybe touch them…" Hells yeah, I’ll sign that waiver.

Like many cat cafés, this one hosts local adoptable kitties and former strays, and the goal—besides selling coffee—is to find new homes for the cats.

That’s such a nice and noble goal and, in many ways, stands in stark contrast to the Cats As Marketing phenomenon that pervaded SXSW last year. True, many of the cats (and dogs) that were trotted out last year to promote various brands—I won’t do them the favor of naming them here—were also meant to promote various pet shelters. But I felt like that message was lost as cats like Morris—well, at least a cat named Morris—hawked cat food to the SXSW masses.

Here at the Blue Cat Café, though, it was just a few people sitting around, politely enjoying a coffee or tea in order to fulfill their real reason for coming: Petting the cats.

At the moment, the place is home to 13 cats. At least one likes to gnaw on your knuckles, but really, she was a sweetie. It’s got neat little things like an old iMac that’s been hollowed out with a little cushion for cat napping.

The pussycats jumped on tables and got their heads scratched. They flopped on the floor and invited patrons to come over and pet their bellies. They wandered in and out of little passageways hidden in the walls, and they chilled out. One looked like it really, really wanted to say hello to a new friend, but sleep beckoned instead.

It’s nice to know these places are proliferating. People are calmer when they’re around cats, I think, and so the energy level at the Blue Cat Café was very quiet and relaxing. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like if it were a dog café.

If you’re in Austin this week—or any week, really—and you want to hear some contented purring while you enjoy an Earl Grey, I recommend you check the place out.

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