Want to cozy up to a furry Burmese while sipping your gunpowder tea, or stroke a Siamese between gulps of your Saint-Émilion? How about a street cat with your shrimp and salmon salad? This fall, Parisian Margaux Gandelon opened just the place for you, in his city's third arrondissement, dubbing it Le Café des Chats, the Café of Cats.
About a dozen felines, formerly homeless or abandoned, live permanently at the café, sleeping on unused chairs, preening in the window, and rubbing against the legs of patrons. Interaction is encouraged, though there are rules (let sleeping cats lie, don't feed the animals, wash your hands before — and presumably after — petting the animals).
The original cat café apparently opened in Taiwan in 1998. Japanese tourists saw it there and brought the idea home. Cat's Store, the first Japanese cat café, opened in 2005. Today there are at least 40 such establishments around the country. The idea is that cats relieve stress and provide non-judgmental companionship. Most of the Japanese iterations of the idea charge an hourly fee, are in effect rent-a-cat operations — fulfilling a need in a country where many apartment buildings ban pets. Cat cafés also now exist in South Korea, Austria, Hungary, Spain, and England, among other places, but Café des Chats is a first for France.
At Gandelon's Parisian pussycat place, there is no purr-charge; all that is expected is that patrons enjoy food or beverage from the café's short menu. This includes a variety of plain and flavored teas (for instance, "Tea for Anarchist," which adds mango and papaya juices to black tea, and "Thé Be Cool," an infusion of apple, mint, anise, licorice, and verbena), soft drinks and wine, a few salads and savory tartes (e.g., one with feta, zucchini, red peppers, tomatoes, and herbes de Provence), and such confections as chocolate chip cookies, Nutella muffins, and Oreo cake.
Le Café des Chats has proven so popular that its website counsels "Reservations are strongly recommended, even for an afternoon visit, even for a cup of tea."