Peek inside Meow Parlour, New York's first permanent cat cafe

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By Ben Popken

The newly opened Meow Parlour, New York City's first permanent cat cafe, is a safe haven for felines and their fanciers alike. A haven with massive hype, however.

Nestled on a cozy corner on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the cafe lets customers rent time to hang out with cats, while sipping coffee and munching on macarons brought over from the location's sister bakery.

Reservations are already sold out through most of January.

“Everyone’s excited, they’re just thrilled at the idea. And we’re excited too!” said Christine Ha, co-founder of Meow Parlour.

The cat cafe is a work of love by her and co-founder and Emilie LeGrand, who bonded over a shared adoration of cats while working at Macaron Parlor. They were inspired by the cat cafes of Taiwan and Tokyo, which started springing up in the 90’s to let urban dwellers get their feline fix without overloading tiny apartments or ticking off ornery landlords. They've also been spotted in Paris, London and Russia.

Already working on a cat cafe concept, the duo were encouraged by the success of the Purina pop-up cat cafe in New York this spring. Lines there wrapped around the block. Ha was one of the people in line and wasn’t able to get in.

When she saw that, she thought, “Wow, people really want this. This is a real thing,” said Ha.

Because there's more cat demand than cat supply, customers will have to make a reservation in advance. They’re $4 for a half-hour slot, but you’re invited to stay for up to five hours.

Should you fall in love with “Squinkles,” “Spot,” “Lucky Lemon,” or any of the other cats roaming over the tables, exploring the crannies of the custom-designed cat-friendly bookshelves, or lounging in front of the giant “MEOW” sign at the storefront, the cafe has partnered with the no-kill cat shelter KittyKind to make them all available for adoption.

Despite the name “cat cafe,” the coffee is not served by cats or even inside the cafe itself by the full-time human employees. Patrons can purchase coffee and treats at the Meow Parlour Patisserie located around the corner, and then bring their food and drink inside. This gets around any sanitary problems from making food in the same spot you keep cats.

Ha is overjoyed and overwhelmed by the massive demand and interest in the cafe, both online, in print, and in the real world. But she thinks it speaks to how the Internet has made it safer to be a cat lover. 

“I think over the past few years as we’ve gotten more and more connected to other people via social media… cats became more of a thing,” said Ha. "What happened is that cats like 'Grumpy Cat' and 'Lil’ Bub' just blew up on the Internet. And suddenly people are recognizing there’s really special and unique cats out there and people suddenly felt comfortable with sharing images of their own cats. Suddenly it became a cat-friendly world."

"I felt like it was just totally cool at some point,” she added. "And now that it’s cool, we’re gonna open a cat cafe.”

The neighborhood is welcoming to the newcomers, with some reservations.

“It’s a nice idea, especially if one of the cats get adopted,” said Carmine Morales, who has owned the Classic Coffee Shop up the street for the last 38 years. “But what happens when the novelty wears off?”

Morales added that he didn’t quite get the appeal, especially if someone already has a cat at home.

“My daughter said ‘I can have a cat cafe any time I want. I got two cats at home and I just pour myself a cup of coffee.’"

But for a true cat fancier, that’s not a problem.

“I have four cats at home,” said Ha. “I always have space in my life to meet another cat."

Meow Parlour, 46 Hester St. between Essex and Ludlow Sts in New York City. Open Noon-8 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.

Email or tweet @bpopken.