Last night I went to ‘Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium’ which calls itself a ‘cat cafe’. It’s basically an English tea room complete with vintage teapots, scones, jam and cakes; but with the added bonus of having cats to keep you company. It’s the first of its kind in London, primarily originating in Japan.
The popularity of cat cafés in Japan is attributed to many apartments forbidding pets, and to cats providing relaxing companionship in what may otherwise be a stressful and lonesome urban life. (Wikipedia)
It sounds like cute, harmless fun doesn’t it? Well that’s what I thought, too, but upon closer inspection I can actually reveal that this is London’s first CAT BROTHEL. The first of many I fear.
Due to the overwhelming popularity of the concept my fiancée had to book tickets for us months in advance; so we could only get an evening slot. A strange time for afternoon tea, but I could eat a nice scone at any time of day, so I wasn’t particularly fussed. I’m a bit of a cat-man myself and have two at home - Larry and Suzy - who I love as much as you can love any cats. They bring a lot of happiness into my life and I thoroughly enjoy all cats and all cat memorabilia. I hadn’t initially given much thought to this “cat underworld” before my visit. I assumed a trip to a cat cafe would just be a ‘bit of a laugh’ and right up my alley… How wrong I was.
I headed there straight from Shepherds Bush after work. The skies were darkening as I took the tube across London. I emerged from the safe, uninspiring underground straight into the lively, hipster hive that is Shoreditch. A cool, trendy place with an energetic atmosphere; yet the place still feels dirty and rough underneath. Once the reality of the fast-approaching situation started to sink in, I too began to feel just as dirty and rough myself.
As I wandered through the streets I took out my phone for directions to Lady Dinah’s – only to be faced with my own phone wallpaper. I must see it a hundred times a day, but tonight I actually paid attention. It was Larry, my cat, staring back at me. Never have I realised how hurt those little amber eyes looked until tonight. I pushed aside the guilt and told myself I was being silly. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I’m just going to a cat cafe.
As I arrived at the café, I saw a black cat in the window display asleep. Sweet. My friends were already waiting so I made my way inside. There’s a strange reception area with one door at the back of the room with a sign that reads “please wait to be called.”
There was one member of staff behind the counter. I asked if I could go straight in and meet my friends who were already there but was curtly told to wait. Wait for what, I wondered… I started to feel nervous and my eyes darted around looking for exits. There was only one. I told myself to calm the f**k down. They’re just cats. Cats I hadn’t met. Cats I was paying to see. The recurring thought bounced around my skull ‘Oh god, what am I doing here?’
The door opened and for a split-second I expected an impossible giant cat to greet me. But no. It was just a regular sized woman. She welcomed me and ran through some of the ground rules. I must not wake a sleeping cat. I must not feed the cats. I must not pick up the cats. The cats are allowed onto my lap; but it must be their decision and theirs alone. I nodded along and agreed to the rules. She led me downstairs. On the way down, we passed a beautiful exotic cat, “Petra”, who was sprawled across a Chaise Longue. I couldn’t take my eyes off her but her sultry gaze cut right through me… her contempt was withering. The decor was quirky, with a shabby-chic vintage tea-room feel, but at a second glance I realised that everything was specifically built for cats. The book case was actually a climbing frame with nooks, crannies and hidey-holes. The shelves were in fact a cat run that made its way through the cafe. It’s not so much shabby-chic as it is tabby-chic.
I met my friends downstairs and we sat down for tea and cake. The reality set in pretty quick that this was basically a BROTHEL FOR CAT LOVERS. The cats came over to me, and although they let me stroke them, they didn’t really seem THAT into it. There were cat-toys strewn about the place. They appeared mildly interested in them at first, but I soon became aware that they weren’t actually playing with the toys at all. They were just TOYING with ME. Giving me just enough attention to keep me interested – but not enough to satisfy. I soon realised it was all an act - and with names like “Biscuits” and “Wookie” - I really started to question how genuine these cats really were. I mean, “Biscuits”? Really? It was clearly just a stage name. Even my sweet, sweet (but oh so cold) “Petra”. It was all just an illusion, wasn’t it?
What had I done? The old adage of “why go out for burgers when you have steak at home” really stuck in my mind. My cats basically did the same thing as these cats. There was nothing particularly special about them. I felt guilty that I had left my cats alone in my flat to go and play with other cats.
It’s not like I’m completely loyal to my cats or anything, I have frequently played with other cats. I even had close bonds with some cats back at home, cats I grew up with. I indulged myself with cute cat videos and pictures on the internet sporadically but one thing here was different… I’d never exchanged money to do so before. I’d paid for this. I’d gone out of my way for this.
THIS was crossing the line.
The rest of the night was a blur. I just remembered wanting to get home to my cats. I arrived home and ran up the stairs, swung open the door and fell to my knees; cradling Larry in my arms and kissing him on the forehead.
"I’m sorry. I’m so sorry!" I cried.
"Mwreaow" he said.
I contemplated a stuttering explanation for my absence, a justification for my infidelity, but thought it best to just bury my face in him again.
The devil’s greatest trick is proving he doesn’t exist. A cat’s greatest trick is convincing you it gives a fuck.
I’ll be booking again in the morning…
If you’d like some faux furry love, you should pop down too!
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium
152-154 Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch, London, E26DG