Crumbs & Whiskers Cat Café is down a side street in Georgetown, Washington, DC. I’m the only customer on a drab afternoon, but I’m in no way alone. I am surrounded by 29 feline friends — most of them having a good sleep. But there’s always one. A beautiful white male climbs onto my lap and gives me a playful bite.
A cat café is a place where you can relax with cats, drink coffee with them and, if you are so inclined, adopt one too. America was slow on the uptake when it comes to feline refreshment. The world’s first cat café, Cat Flower Garden, opened in Taipei, Taiwan in 1998. Gradually they began to appear elsewhere — in Japan, there are cat, owl and hedgehog cafés — until in 2014, Cat Town Café was launched in Oakland, California. Now they’re popping up all over the place, from Berkeley Springs to Pittsburgh to New York City. There’s even a combined cat café and wine bar in Charleston, South Carolina. A purr-fect opportunity to enjoy some good wine in the company of cats.
American cat cafés have a particular slant that is both endearing and useful in stilling critical voices. They double as adoption centers: their cats can be taken home and given somewhere permanent to live. This is very different to British cat cafés, which tend to have permanent, and sometimes trophy-breed, residents. Maison de Moggy in Edinburgh, for instance, has a star turn, a hairless sphynx called Elodie. She is very beautiful and friendly. I should know: I’ve visited there three times.
Back to my afternoon at Crumbs & Whiskers. Washington is going mad over impeachment, everyone is stressed out and the world is a dangerous place; but here in this little sanctuary we’re in a parallel universe, the way the world would be if cats were in charge. From what I can see, this world would involve plenty of rest, and regular feeding and stroking. Just occasionally there would be a brief stretching of legs, but not too much.
It’s hard not to love Crumbs & Whiskers. Since its opening, more than 1,300 cats have been adopted and nearly 3,000 saved from euthanasia. Celebrity visitors, including Drew Barrymore, Paris Jackson and Nicole Kidman have come looking for a touch of perspective in their lives, though not Michelle Pfeiffer or Julie Newmar. They’ve only played Catwoman on screen.
The cats don’t care for celebrity. When a homesick and slightly low middle-aged Englishman turns up on a wet afternoon, he gets the welcome of a prince and a chance to relax a bit and enjoy the gracious presence of nature’s little healers.
‘I’ve done dozens of different jobs,’ one of the charming workers tells me, ‘but this is the best job in the world.’
This article is in The Spectator’s February 2020 US edition.