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Cute puppy and a menu at a pet cafe


Animal House

For the gourmand who also appreciates animals not on their plates, there is a new trend coming to these shores: pet cafés.

Cat or dog, guinea pig or python, all pet lovers have one thing in common: sometimes, they need a fix. That’s where animal cafés come in. And they are coming in (finally) to the United States.

Animal cafés originated in Taiwan in 1998, where someone decided (curiously, to this dog lover) that people would pay to hang out with cats—and lo, the Cat Flower Garden bloomed. Soon after, the concept of having a sip and nibble surrounded by cuteness began to spread around East Asia, most notably to Tokyo, where there are now over 150 pet cafés. One possible reason? Japanese landlords rarely accommodate pets, and the culture there is highly sensitive to never inconveniencing others. (Unlike, say, New Yorkers.)

There’s Harry, where patrons can pet hedgehogs, chinchillas, and otters. There are two owl cafés, one with its own bar.

So why stop at cats? Tokyo asked. Today there’s Harry, where patrons can pet hedgehogs, chinchillas, and otters. (No food or drinks, but you can bring your own.) There are two owl cafés, one with its own bar. (Fun fact: It’s legal to own an owl as a pet in Japan.)

There’s Mipig Cafe for micro pigs, a rabbit café, and Sakuraoka Cafe for goats. Reptiles Café has over 100 animals, all available for purchase, if you get buzzed enough to buy the snake you’re handling—or you can focus on the logistics of adopting your own monitor lizard, scorpion, iguana, or turtle. Maybe do a stopover in Seoul, where there’s a meerkat café and another one with raccoons.

Woman feeding mini pigs at a pet café in China
The concept of animal cafés originated in Taiwan and soon spread throughout East Asia. Here, a customer spends quality time with mini pigs at a café in China. Photo by Huang Jinkun/VCG via Getty Images
Women holding a hedgehog at a pet cafe in Tokyo
Hanging with a hedgehog in Tokyo. Definitely an Insta-worthy moment. Photo courtesy of loyayakimova
Man at a Reptiles Cafe in Tokyo with a ball python and a scorpion
Reptiles Café has over 100 animals—including ball pythons and scorpions—all available for purchase. Photo by Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images

The passion to  chow down with, say, snakes and chinchillas, might very well exist in New York City, too—particularly since pet stores have made it illegal to cuddle their merchandise. But New York City’s health codes for restaurants make such encounters unlikely—at least for now. However, with some strict partitioning of food and beasts, a few savvy New York restaurateurs have figured out a way to at least vibe with cats and dogs.

Admittedly, my teenage daughter and I were ignored or rejected by most of the cats at Brooklyn Cat Cafe, which left me feeling like I paid a bunch of tiny, furry dominatrixes to be mean to us. Some cats got our hopes up, walking toward us, only to abruptly leave when discovering we didn’t have treats (which are available for purchase). 

At Brooklyn Cat Cafe, $15 buys you an hour in feline company. The second floor houses a new kitten room. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Cat Cafe
Cats in the window of a pet cafe
Cats who “need more space,” wear a red collar. Yellow collars mean “no treats,” because they’re on a special diet. Photo courtesy of Brooklyn Cat Cafe

Cats who “need more space,” wear a red collar. Yellow collars mean “no treats,” because they’re on a special diet. Another patron warned us, “that one scratches,” (no red collar!) as we were cautiously trying to pet her head. But even the yellow-collared cats didn’t want anything to do with us aside from tolerating one or two pets before leaping away. 

At checkout, I paid $30 for the two of us: the price of admission for one hour without a reservation. “Would you like to add a tip for the cats?” Yes. How about: “Be friendlier? You want to get adopted, don’t you?”

Like all pet cafés in New York City, it’s divided into two sides; food and drink purchasing is separated from the seating and eating area

Maybe you can guess I’m much more of a dog person (and in fairness, maybe my daughter and I exuded eau de pit bull, thanks to our adorable knucklehead, Skyfall.)  Visiting Boris & Horton, a dog café in the East Village (there’s a second location in Williamsburg) was, in a sharp contrast, a non-stop love fest. Then again, these are dogs who are already highly spoiled pets, hanging there with their owners, free to mix and mingle—which, in dog terms, means table hopping, seeking out affection, or scouting  snacks that might accidentally get dropped on the floor. 

Like all pet cafés in New York City, it’s divided into two compartmentalized sides; the food and drinks (including beer and wine) are purchased on one side which is separated from the seating and eating area by two doors reminiscent of an airlock (so no one can make a run for it). There’s cool music playing, the food is surprisingly good, and hey—dogs!

Patrons and dogs at Boris & Horton dog-friendly cafe, Brooklyn
Dog-friendly Boris & Horton. ”I recommend you sit on the floor and let the cold noses come close to greet you,” wrote one fan on Instagram. Photo courtesy of ofeaquina
Dog on its hind legs at a cafe counter
Items on the “Maison de pawZ” menu include Pupcake, Paw’reo, and PB & J Puptart. Photo courtesy of nutmegandhennessy

To be fair, the cat cafés in New York City have a worthy mission: finding forever homes for cats in shelters who are scheduled to be euthanized. And while paying $25 for an hour with cats—at Koneko (Japanese for kitten) on Clinton Street—seems a bit steep, it would be well worth it to get your cat fix if you’re looking to adopt, or if you live with someone allergic to cats.

Whether more exotic animal cafés will make it to these shores is an open question.  In the meantime, I will dream of visiting Cafe Capyba in Tokyo, which opened last April. Yes, capybaras. The website advertises it as “a place to provide healing.” I believe them.

Hero photo courtesy of

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