Of course I visited Koneko cat cafe in New York. Of course I did. Would you expect anything less? Of course you don’t. One rainy New York day, David and I decided to head over to the Lower East Side of Manhattan Island. Strolling from the High Line westward through Little Italy, we realised we weren’t too far from striking two things off my NYC bucket list:
1. The Cupcake Market, which fashions cookies after a teary Kim Kardashian, orange President Trump (who was waiting to be sworn in during our visit), melodramatic Miss Swift and others, and:
2. Koneko cat cafe, New York’s first Japanese cat cafe which also functions as a type of coffee-based cat shelter, in which visitors can take home the cat they bond with.
So, what should one expect from visiting a cat cafe? Read on, dear feline friend. Read on.
Koneko Cat Cafe Review: What’s it all about?
Any F.R.I.E.N.D.S fan will know what living in New York is like. London has some areas full of green space, the odd park dotted around. Rows of terraced houses (even in central London, even if they’ve been carved into flats) will have some garden space.
So, anyone interested in being a pet owner has choices.
Garden flats can happen, and most of the time moving a few miles out of the centre means more space and a garden. It’s not really like that in New York. Huge skyscrapers donning hundreds of floors are the norm, and no one expects to live in the city AND have a garden. It just doesn’t happen. Huge buildings are surrounded by concrete and more huge buildings. Even the schools are forced to make do with concrete playgrounds, fenced off with barbed wire.
Unlike Rachel with her mean Sphynx cat, and Ross with his randy monkey Marcelle, real-life New Yorkers don’t have the luxury of space, and so pets aren’t massively popular.
So, what’s a cat-lover to do? Well, visit a cat cafe, of course.
Koneko Cat Cafe Review: The venue
Koneko is located on the ground floor and subterranean basement of a huge townhouse. Split over two floors, the main entrance is a standard cafe serving all kinds of Japanese slash American treats, as well as some of the best matcha lattes I’ve ever had. Beyond the cafe is a glass wall, and behind that, the cats’ living area.
There’s a soft and plush room full of cat caves and scratch posts, a mezzanine garden decked out for any sun-seeking cats to catch some rays (and no doubt keep the giant rats at bay) and a basement area. There are strategically placed tunnels for the cats to meander up and downstairs, and a few cat-flapped areas where litter trays and food stations are located, as well as human-free zones.
Koneko Cat Cafe Review: The cats’ stories
Let’s make it super simple here: each of Koneko’s cats was on death row.
Every week, working with Anjellicle Cats Rescue, the owners are given a huge list of way-too-many cats that are At Risk. Basically, they’re imminently facing the lethal injection. The team rallies around trying to find foster homes for as many cats as they can, and once they’re settled in their new homes might take a trip to the Lower East Side to see if they can mingle with the other residents. If they can, they go to the cafe to enjoy some human time and find their new family.
Koneko Cat Cafe Review: The experience
You can book to spend some time with the cats, in hour-long sessions (or two, or all day if you care to!) or walk in and see if there are any spaces. We visited just after 11am and there was a huge group already enjoying cuddle times. So, after speaking to the staff, we decided to head in for midday. If no one booked after us, we were allowed to stay a little bit longer.
While waiting we treated ourselves to a pain au chocolat, matcha lattes and waffles. The service was quite slow, we’ll admit. With a handful of people waiting, it took almost thirty minutes to get our entire order. We weren’t in any rush, though, so it made little difference to us. I’d have been mega peeved if it cut into my cat cuddle time, though, no matter how delicious.
As part of our Koneko Cat Cafe review, for science of course, I was sure to examine every single part of the venue, including the human litterbox, also known as Poop House. It was so clean and so pretty and so cat-themed that I wanted to steal the plunger itself.
With the other group’s hour up, it was our turn! After paying the $15 admission fee – which goes towards food, little, vaccinations and general cat wellbeing at Angellique’s – we went into the vacuum, the space between the cafe and cuddle zone. Taking off our coats and shoes, we were given Japanese slippers and after some hand sanitisation were let free!
Koneko Cat Cafe Review: Inside the cat zone
Two volunteers manned both areas upstairs and in the basement, and each explained the cat’s name and their personality, as well as the number one rule: No Picking Up Any Cats. We were warned some were a little grumpy, and some were sleepy, so let the cats just do what they do! There was an array of cat caves and toys to try to interact with them, as well as bean bags to stop and have a cuddle.
I am not going to lie here. I was WAY EXCITED. There were at least TWENTY CATS just milling around. SO MANY CATS! I was honestly screaming inside at the cuteness and it took all kinds of willpower summoned from the very depths of my soul to not squeeze each cat’s fat head off. I petted and played, and David chilled with a gorgeous Tortie named Petra (who I seriously would have adopted had we not have our own).
Of course, cats will be cats. Some were totally interested in nap. Others wanted a bit of a fuss and cuddle. Others just wanted to watch the goings on. But the experience was incredible. And knowing the entrance fee was going to a charity, a shelter, makes it all the more better. Sure, we have cat cafes here. But unlike Lady Dinah’s for example, where the cats are live-in and the entrance fee is for only their upkeep and the running of the cafe as well as their more, er, gimmicky cat-based sessions, Koneko’s cost goes to help cats all over the state of New York.
Koneko Cat Cafe Review: Welfare
One of the biggest issues was the welfare of the cats. And speaking to the owner, we left certain each cat is well looked after in their own special way. For starters, each cat is monitored when with their foster family. Going right from shelter to cafe is a silly move, so they’re placed with families all over the state who get them back to their best.
They’re given vaccines and spayed if needed, and cats with contractable diseases are placed in special homes either alone or with others who have the same conditions.
Then, it’s time for a select few of the fifty or so rescued each month to be watched to see how they react to people and other cats. If they like to mingle and socialise, they’re trialled under close supervision to see how they would adapt to a few weeks in the venue. If they seem to be stressed or not coping, they’re taken back to their foster family. If they love their new fussed-over-day-and-night life, then it’s time to wait for their perfect partner to pick them.
It takes a lot of work. A lot.
And for that reason, it’s well worth the cost. Eat the treats, don’t eat, it’s not an issue. But head here in the morning to get the most cuddle time and you’ll leave with a huge smile on your face (and possible a new furry friend to take home, too).
Koneko Cat Cafe | $15 donation for entry | Website