Cat Cafes! A comparison

(Updated) I’ve had Smeagol , my very first cat, since around 2004, and he’s confirmed what I’ve always known – that I’m not exclusively a dog person.

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I first visited a cat cafe by chance. We were exploring Myeong-dong when we spotted a Garfield mascot handing out fliers. Our group split up for the night that time, and we had some time left before meeting up to head home together. We decided to check the place out!

We were able to locate the cafe even if it was tucked away in a small, dimly lit building. Once up the floor where the cafe was located, we couldn’t help feeling a bit giddy (#cutenessoverload):

Cat’s Attic is amazing and well thought out. Here, the cats are king! Even to a point, if I may say. Some observations:

  • Before entering, you need to take your shoes off and use the slippers that they have provided. I believe it’s for maintaining cleanliness and for avoiding getting things like shoe laces possibly nibbled on or played with by the cats.
  • The interior design is amazing. There are plenty of cat walks, bridges and towers. There are a lot of cat houses for the more shy ones to retreat to in case it gets a bit overwhelming. I also love the mix of stone and wood.
  • The benches and stools double as storage for your bags and belongings. I find this clever and thoughtful. You can stow away your stuff and keep it out of the way so you are free to roam and follow the kitties around, and again, probably so they wouldn’t sit on them, play with them, and leave dander on them and whatnot.
  • They don’t serve food, only drinks. I can’t remember if they serve hot drinks too, but the cold drinks are always in a covered cup. Buying a drink serves as your entrance fee.
  • The cats are spoiled! Their food bowls are full, and the staff would go around with a can of wet food and a spoon to hand feed.
  • It’s a big mix of cats! I’m not particular with breeds but it was nice to see a lot of these exotic (and uncommon, at least for the Philippines) cats up close.
  • There are rules. I remember seeing some cats with scarves on their necks and wondered why not all of the cats have them (thinking they were some kind of uniform). Turned out that these cats tend to bite, so best to just leave them alone.
  • The staff is friendly. I think there was some hesitance to let us in with Aki, but I couldn’t know for sure. At any rate, I’m glad they let us in.
  • The place is clean and it doesn’t smell, which is amazing. They also close a bit late, until 10 pm, if I’m not mistaken.

A cat cafe in Manila

For a time, cat cafes were something to experience abroad only, but not anymore. In Manila, there are cat cafes AND dog cafes. Akira and I had lunch recently in a cat cafe called Bistro Meau. This was our first local cat cafe visit!

We were here for lunch straight from Akira’s school. It’s fairly easy to locate using Waze, but parking space is limited. Other observations:

  • It might not be as obvious in the pictures, but the place is tiny. Because of that, their furnishings consisted of high chairs and bar tables. It’s a bit uncomfortable, especially with a toddler.
  • Because the place is tiny, it would probably be a good idea to call ahead to make a reservation or double check if the place is full, especially if you are planning to visit on a weekend where there’s bound to be more people.
  • There’s only one cat condo in the corner to indicate that there are actual cats in the place. One was sleeping inside the compartment, but there are two more hiding at the back. I’m not sure how many resident cats they have, but there were three when we went. All purebreds.
  • Good variety of items on the menu. The items lean towards beverages, with iced and hot coffee and milkshakes, but they also have rice bowls. I had the burger steak and Akira had chicken adobo – she liked her food very much.
  • No entrance fee, just order. The place is also clean and odor-free.

When we arrived, we were the only customers and all the cats were asleep. It was expected since we arrived at high noon. My own cat for instance, eats breakfast, retreats in the storage room, and doesn’t come out until late afternoon.

A few minutes after we’ve settled in and ordered, the staff began to thrust toys at the cats, waking them up. Thankfully there was a younger cat that was more eager to play but honestly, if we came and left and the cats didn’t want to come out, it would have been okay. I have cats – I understand you can’t make them do anything they don’t like to do.

Akira took a break playing with the cat to have her lunch. After that, one of the waiters suggested we take a picture with one of the other cats, apparently the mom of the cat Akira was playing with. I didn’t feel comfortable, but the staff was pretty eager. They were also joking that the mama cat was an ‘artista‘ implying that she’s usually playful or outgoing.

I truly hope so. I was beginning to get the impression that people come here just to have photos taken with, and play and coo with the cute, fluffy imported cats.

A comparison

It may not seem like a fair comparison because the cat cafe in Korea is larger (I’m not certain but I think there are 20 cat residents in total), but this is what I mean when I say that the one in Korea is well thought of and planned out.

There is equal priority given to the cats and the human customers, where more is given to the cats’ comfort and wellbeing at times. The space was designed to encourage some exercise, but also provided some refuge in case they don’t want to interact.

The establishment also seems to understand that cats have personalities – if some of their resident cats aren’t so friendly (maybe he was just sick, is still new, etc.) they aren’t locked up somewhere, customers are just warned to keep away. They even limited their menu so that both staff and customers can focus on and enjoy the cats.

When we were in Cat’s Attic, we were the only tourists and the rest of the customers are Koreans. They really seemed to be cat people, nobody was harassing (or being too makulit with the cats) the cats, and there was always a staff or two in the general area supervising the interactions with the cats.

There are cat cafes and then there are places that happen to have animals, and Bistro Meau to me falls under the latter.

Areas of improvement for Bistro Meau

It’s a shame because a cat cafe in the Philippines can be a platform for much more. Especially since just outside Bistro Meau are several strays. I’m uncomfortable with the fact that a place like Bistro Meau seems to further the impression that animals – even if they are domesticated house pet types like cats and dogs – are just photo op props, and that it’s ok to wake them up for photos and to be passed around. I mean, just because the cat doesn’t hiss and back out doesn’t mean he’s having a ball, you know?

I especially don’t like the fact that there’s not even one domestic resident cat. It just helps support the idea that purebreds are cuter/more superior than local cats, which is sad and just isn’t true.

If they see their establishment as more than a restaurant that happens to have cats, I hope they can take more concrete action in support of general cat welfare in the country.

They can start with feeding and caring for the stray cat population in their vicinity, and in time, having them spayed and neutered (if they haven’t yet). They can certainly have at least one local cat representative in the cafe -hello, local breeds are cute too!

The staff can also be trained to approach customers and brief them on proper cat protocol, especially if it’s their first time in a cat cafe. It’s not enough to just pin a signboard of rules on the wall.

Will we be visiting a local cat cafe again?

I doubt I’ll be back at Bistro Meau. To be fair though, they have an event with Advocacy Center Philippines tomorrow for International Cat Day, so maybe they are beginning to exercise more awareness and responsibility.

Too bad this area is really far now from us, but Cat Cafe Manila in Maginhawa Street, Quezon City sounds like the cat cafe that got it right. Straight up, from their website you’d see reminders to take note of, for both the cats and humans’ sake so that everybody has an enjoyable time. For instance, they have an occupancy limit as to the number of people that can stay in the cafe at a given time.

Taking a look at photos of the place, it seems to have been constructed mindfully too:

Best of all, the establishment has partnered with CARA Welfare Philippines, where some of the rescued felines can be adopted out through the cafe. To me, that’s social entrepreneurship. That’s business with a mission and a heart. It’s something I hope to see up close soon.

Update: Cat Cafe Manila closed in August 2018.

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