It was all my British friends had been talking about for nearly three-months: When was London’s first cat cafe going to open?!! I blame them for being a little overcome with cute kitty love as I sat at my laptop desperately refreshing the screen to see if I to could get a ticket for high tea with some cats at the newly opened Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium.
I swear I’m not a crazy cat lady. In fact, I’m probably a crazy dog lady.
Located in the uber trendy Shoreditch, on London’s East side, set amongst tattoo parlours, vintage boutiques and next door to Brick Lane, the purple building and huge glass windows gives you a glimpse into the cafe before heading inside.
The cafe is set over two floors. The top floor is reminisce of an English tea room that could be found anywhere across Great Britain, save for the huge cat spinning wheel sitting against one of the walls. Couples and friends sat across tables nibbling on scones or sipping tea. As I crossed the room to walk downstairs, two sleeping cats stirred from their hammock made from a potato sack strung across the railings.
Downstairs the atmosphere was anything but quiet and cats and people milled around. A big group of locals settled into the cushy sofas sat chatting animatedly as one person jiggled a piece of gold string in the air in front of a cat and another girl lay on the floor gazing, eye-to-eye, with a cat poking its head out from under the couch.
I wondered what crazy world I had just entered.
I simply sat people watching for the first 15-minutes. Set near Brick Lane means the clientele is eclectic and ranging from classic British prep-styled through to a few punk rocker-types that looked a little out-of-place in the vintage. Everyone is welcome – locals, tourists, those crazy for cats and even the ones who err on the side of unsure.
Locals enjoying a quiet night out, an Italian tourist who seemed intent on playing with a long-haired Persian named Petra (nicknamed ‘Princess’), a few couples on what looked like dates (I wonder if a few men had been dragged along somewhat unwillingly) and of course, me. Everyone visiting was clearly smitten with the cats that milled around under the watchful eye of two staff members.
As I waited for my tea it gave me the chance to speak to the staff, all passionate animal lovers who truly care for the eleven cats that roam the rooms and enjoy their jobs.
I was able to spend quite some time speaking with one girl who worked there was clearly inspired by cafe founder, Lauren, who began the business after seeing a stray kitten. She eagerly explained the lengthy process of adopting and settling the cats, how most of the cats were related to one another and adopted from a local animal welfare group, and about their pampered lives at the Emporium.
She even shared that they were already looking at expanding the cafe to include an outdoor area for the cats and how they were looking into ways to improve the cafe side of the business after a few ‘average’ reviews surrounding the opening.
As we were talking we overheard the Italian girl complain to her boyfriend that none of the cats wanted to play with her and that so many were sleeping. The cafe worker politely excused herself and began to explain to the couple why.
I loved how she phrased her response: the cafe is about experiencing and enjoying the company of the cats in their natural states, it’s not about forcing the cats to do something they don’t want to do. Some want to play, some what to hide and no be around humans, and some will nap – it’s what cats do and we have to respect it.
As I digested her views, while sipping on my Earl Grey tea and eating my delicious Victoria sponge (made the way I like with fresh strawberries!), I had to respect Lauren, the staff, and what the cafe was trying to do for these cats, as well as giving profile to rescue cats.
Like any new business there are kinks they need to work out and they are eagerly trying to take onboard all constructive criticism sent to them. First and foremost is the health and wellness of the eleven furry residents; without them it would just be another of London’s many cafes.
One of the biggest complaints in the opening weeks had been surrounding the food. It was neglected and not to the quality guests had expected for a ‘cafe’. The team took this onboard, hiring someone to oversee and improve the cafe and small steps toward improvement had definitely been made when I visited. While I still think timing is off (20 minutes to get a slice of cake and pot of tea is not quality material, especially when there was only about 10 people total in the cafe) I do think the quality of the desserts was worth it. Next time I might just order when I arrive to avoid the wait!
I’ll be back one day. Not necessarily to play with the cats – I’m a dog person, remember that canine focused Twitter page Blue Buffalo that I obsess about? – but to see how the team grow and built their business. Okay, fine. I admit that I succumbed to teasing one of the cats with a gold piece of string for a good half hour.
Right now, the team have enough on their hands (paws?) with bookings at the cafe full until October 2014!
Think tea parlour, vintage flair and classy crazy cat ladies house all rolled into one. Welcome to Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, London’s much-anticipated cat cafe.
Now it’s over to you:
Have you been to a cat cafe?
Are you a dog or a cat person?
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium
152-154 Bethnal Green Road
Shoreditch, London E26DG
Price: £5 entry fee. Food and beverages cost extra.
Need to know:
- Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is located near Shoreditch High Street. I suggest taking a bus or the Overground.
- Light food, desserts and drinks are available, including gluten free products. Cat toys and cat themed souvenirs are also available for sale.
- Visiting London and the website saying that tickets are unavailable? Watch Lady Dinah’s Twitter as they update it letting people know when cancellations have been made. Alternatively, if you are in Shoreditch check in at the cafe 15minutes after a session starts to see if there are any no show’s. Fingers crossed you are lucky!
- You cannot bring your cat with you!