Purringtons Cat Lounge opened its doors over the weekend in Northeast Portland, Oregon, making it the very first cat cafe in the city, and the latest in a growing trend of cat cafes in North America. The first cat cafe ever opened in 1998 in Taiwan, and it's taken nearly a decade and a half for the trend to start popping up in the United States.
So far the American cat cafe phenomenon has been…uneven. From corporately promotional to outright cat-astrophe, US cat cafes are still finding their feet (er, paws), and so far nobody's reaching the frisky heights of, say, Curl-Up Cafe in Tokyo or Les Cafe des Chats in Paris. We here at Sprudge are lovers of both coffee and cats, and much of our editorial staff lives in Portland. We just had to go.
I stepped into Purringtons and was immediately greeted by a group of cheery employees. “Welcome to Purringtons! Do you have a reservation?”
I did not.
“That's okay,” the employee assured us, “if someone cancels we can squeeze you in!”
Within minutes a spot opened up, granting me an hour with the kitties. The space itself at Purringtons is divided into two parts: a cafe where the food and drink are prepared and a cat lounge where the cats hang out. A maximum of twenty humans are allowed in the lounge per one hour appointment block. Waiting for my hour to begin, I ordered a coffee and a cat-shaped cookie and sat in front of the windows overlooking the lounge.
Inside, people ate charcuterie and sipped wine while others used laser pointers and dangly toys to interact with the felines. A nervous child sat on her father's lap as dad slugged some beer and mom tried to coax one of the cats out of a cubby. An attendant wearing a “Cat Flag” t-shirt made sure all the rules were followed and the cats and humans played nice.
My cookie was delicious, though I did wonder if its whimsical cat shape was appropriate. Wouldn't a mouse make more sense? Why would I want to eat a cat? Those seated beside me snacked on deviled eggs and a massive cheese plate. On top of house-made food stuffs, Purringtons offers a wide selection of wines and beer, alongside batch brew coffee roasted by Portland's Extracto Coffee Roasters.
If I can be real for a second, the idea of cat cafes kind of grosses me out. Don't get me wrong, I love cats. Adore them, actually. And of course I love coffee. Putting the two together seems great on paper, but the idea of lots of cats and lots of people and cat hair in my coffee…it just, it just doesn't seem right. Purringtons was my first cat cafe experience IRL and it made me wary.
The earlier group shuffled out of the lounge and my group was at last let in. The Cat Flag attendant debriefed us on the rules (told us to sanitize our hands, asked us not to pick up the cats) and with that we were off. The cats, nine of them altogether, are all up for adoption. Some were in a back room (the kitty green room) where they're given the opportunity to take a break from the humans. Most were out and about, flopped passively on a bounty of cat furniture and scratching posts.
This was not gross. This was adorable. The lounge itself was clean and well-kept. Cleaner, frankly, than a lot of cafes in Portland that *don't* have cats. My group was quiet and courteous, and as the hour went on, the novelty of our shared kitty experience actually opened people up. We interacted with each other in a real, genuine way. The cats brought out the best in us.
“Other cat cafes have a clinical feel, beige walls. We wanted something a little more lively,” co-owner Sergio Castillo told me, pointing to the enormous Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie cat mural painted on the wall of the lounge. Husband and wife Sergio and Kristen Castillo began the process of opening Purringtons—which is also their first cafe—last year. They teamed up with the Cat Adoption Team and sought to provide a service to homeless cats rather than an entertainment venue with a permanent collection of feline residents.
I asked if Purringtons might considering expanding their coffee options–right now it's batch brew only–and the Castillos seemed opened to the idea, but the cost of an espresso machine is ultimately what's keeping them from going forward. Sergio Castillo tells me, “I could buy a Smart car with the money it costs to buy an espresso machine!” I hear that, brother, and he's not wrong, but a Smart car can't steam a saucer of milk. For now, customers can groove on delicious drip coffee while relaxing with a cat or two (or nine).
The American cat cafe cultural moment is just getting started; it's a perfect storm of urban small business ownership, internet cat virality, and social do-goodery. I hope every one of these love muffins finds a forever home, so that the Castillos can introduce a new clowder of cat friends to chill with. And moreover, I hope that when a cat cafe inevitably comes to a neighborhood near you, it is done with the degree of care, respect, and love evident at Purringtons.
Zachary Carlsen is a co-founder of Sprudge.com