The one thing I don't like about living in Ottawa now is that it's so far away from Southwestern Ontario where I lived for the past 10 years and the Greater Toronto area (G.T.A) where I grew up. There is something nice about having so many places grouped together in such a short distance. However, I am excited to live in a brand, new part of Ontario and even more excited that I am now closer to places I haven't yet explored. Montreal is one of those places that I have been to briefly, but never really got to know. When it looked like we wouldn't be making the Labour Day long weekend trek back to Southwestern Ontario to visit family and friends because of the weather, we decided to take a day trip to Montreal instead. The day started with a small hike (i.e, drive and then walk from the parking lot) up to Mount Royal to get a panoramic overview of the city.
In briefly researching things to do in Montreal over the long weekend, I came across an article promoting the Montreal opening of North America's first cat café. Did we go to Montreal just for the cat café or did it just happen to be opening that day? We will never know, but OH MY GOD, CAT CAFE! I was obviously excited. After a bit of walking around the city and lunch, we waited in line for about an hour with many other crazy cat people to be let into the new café. There was even a "cat café bouncer" who was only letting in a certain number of people at a time--obviously to not overwhelm the cats and the space. Yes, this is what I do with my Saturdays.
The idea behind the Le Café des Chats Montreal cafe--located at 3435 Rue Saint Denis--is to be a new and original space for coffee lovers in the city and also promote the therapeutic benefits of spending time with cats. When cats are not shedding fur all over your carpet, hacking up hairballs or jumping on your face to ask for food, their presence is actually quite soothing to the average person. Plus themed cafés seem to be all the rage now too, including ones centred around board games, art and vintage knick knacks, cartoon characters and trendy foods.
Cat cafés have been popular in Asia for awhile now and more recently in Europe. The first cat café opened in Taiwan in 1998. The trend quickly caught on in Japan which is now home to almost 40 cat cafés. Many North American travellers seem to like the idea as well and there are now plans to open them in Toronto and Vancouver. I can see why the idea is so popular in urban settings. Coffee shops are already an oasis for the weary, caffeine-addicted, lonely urbanite and adding cute and cuddly cats into the mix is definitely a recipe for success.
You have to be quite a social and attention seeking cat to want to work here. These also might be some of the most photographed cats in Canada at the moment. When I finally got inside, it was like a full-on cat photo shoot. The atmosphere will be busy for the next few weeks, so I don't foresee the cats getting any less attention; however, I suspect once it dies down a little that you will be able to sip on a coffee in a quiet room and the cats will likely approach you instead of you hunting them down with your iPhone. Enough talking. I'm sure you want see photos of all of the kitties! There are black ones, fluffy ones, coloured ones, long ones and sleepy ones--many, many sleepy ones.
The café doesn't charge a cover fee as far as I know. They also encourage you to use hand sanitizer before and after you enter and watch the door carefully so the cats don't run out. There are of course, rules to the whole thing to protect the welfare of the cats, which are as follows:
1. Do not feed the cats
2. No flash photography
3. Don't sneak up on the cats and make loud noises
4. Let the cats sleep
5. Don't pull on the cat's tails or whiskers
6. No children under the age of 12 are allowed
7. Do not pick up the cats
The space itself is quite nice with big windows, a lot of seating and many cat trees, tubes, perches and toys, making one ponder if the space is built to be an oasis for the humans or the cats. The menu contained standard coffee shop fare with some cat-themed names, including "cat-puccinos" and "meow-cchiatos." On the opening day, they were handing out free iced coffee and dessert samples. The prime spot seemed to be the rocking chairs and lounging arm chairs by the front windows. In my experience, cats will gravitate naturally to any window and they all seemed to be congregated at that spot. It was also later in the day, so I understand why they were so tuckered out from the attention of the opening day.
I love this shot of a group of people hovering over this gorgeous Maine Coon cat. All of the eight cats were adopted from the S.P.C.A and I assume live at the café. Having never been to a cat café, it is an interesting experience not only for the cats but for the people watching. Cat people are normally quite solitary people who confine their cat love to the comfort of their own homes. Bring them out in the open to a place with other people, and cats, and you have some interesting dynamics. Also, the fact that they are not your own cats, makes you feel a little bit of a betrayal at scratching the chins and petting the bellies of other cats. I joked to my husband when we got home that our cat was mad because she knew we were "out on the town seeing other cats."
Like my cat, these cats also sleep a lot. The rule that you can't disturb the cats if they are sleeping is in place for a reason. But surely it can be broken a few times to take into the account that the average cat sleeps an average of 20 hours a day. The residents of Le Café des Chats also have a separate litter box room, feeding station and quiet room for when they are too tired of the spotlight. Every cat is special and different in their own little way and some like the attention more than others I presume.
I would feel sorry for the poor soul who came to the café thinking it was merely a cat-themed name and walk in to discover many cats wandering around while they tried to order a coffee. The same goes for the allergy sufferers of the world; it might no be the best place for you. I know at my house I find cat hair in almost everything I try to eat and drink. In reading about other cat cafés in the world, I like the idea that cat cafés are a place for people who can't have cats at home because of their living situation. Or maybe they want more cats but can only have one. If dog lovers can have dog parks and meet other like-minded dog people, why can't cat people have a communal space too?
As well as a novelty idea, it's also a way for business owners to adopt cats who need forever homes and give them a life of leisure and all of the Internet attention they could want. I hope to visit Le Café de Chats next time I am in Montreal and see how the concept progresses. It is a beautiful city that has many European influences. Anthony Bourdain has called Montreal his favourite Canadian city and as my idol and a great orator of all things food, he is always right.
Any stop in Montreal is not complete without either a bagel or smoked meat sandwich experience. Schwartz's Deli is a Montreal institution on par with Katz's Deli in New York City. It's one of those places where you wait in a ridiculous line (although I would rather wait in line for a cat café) and get one of four sandwich options and shame on you if you ask for any kind of substitutions, non-standard sauce or anything else besides meat and mustard.
After all that cat play at the cattery, we wandered around Old Montreal for awhile and felt like some hearty Polish food from Stash Café. The smells of the hearty stews, keilbasa and cabbage rolls will entice you from the street and so will the amazing piano player who tinkers on the piano all night long with relaxing jazz standards played from memory. It's like if Rick's Café from Casablanca was set in Montreal instead of Morocco and served good and affordable Eastern European food.
We started with perogies with cheese and potato filling and then the Bigos, a traditional polish "after hunt" stew with cabbage, mushrooms and roasted meats. I had the breaded filet de sole with salad and potatoes. I was eyeing those cabbage rolls though. It's a great, little place that is not too pretentious amongst the hip Old Town food scene. There are no cats there though. You will have to go to Le Café de Chats for that and hopefully to the other Canadian affiliates that are apparently opening in other cities soon. I really wonder if the concept will stick around like it has in other places and what weird and wonderful café concept will be next. What do you think will be the next craze?