Cats rule at the city's newest cafe

Felines roam freely at Le Cat Cafe, jumping along tables and chairs, and scaling a three-foot-tall silver Eiffel Tower replica, while customers sip free beverages. The price of entry is $15 at the door, and the cats are available for adoption.

For Kathy Jordan, cats are like potato chips.

You can't have just one.

It's a motto that led the 58-year-old financial adviser to adopt her first cat in 1991, and to rescue another just years later. It led to establishing Green Street Rescue, a Philadelphia cat adoption center, in 2005, and along the way, to fostering hundreds of cats of her own.

This weekend, it again led the Fairmount woman to perhaps her most crowning achievement: opening Philadelphia's first feline cafe.

The grand opening Sunday afternoon of Jordan's Le Cat Cafe came with significant anticipation: Within the first hour of opening, a line of nearly 150 feline fans - some dressed in animal costumes, wearing tails and sporting cat ears - stretched along Girard Avenue.

"Even if it's an hour wait," said Wilhem Arthur, 21, a health care IT developer, who came dressed in a full-body dinosaur costume, "it's worth it for the cats."

While novel to the Philadelphia region, the concept of Le Cat Cafe apes dozens of others that have been spreading across Taiwan, Japan and European countries including France and Germany since the late 1990s.

In the United States, about 40 cat cafés exist, Jordan and her employees estimate. The nation's first, they said, opened two years ago in California.

Calling her operation a "Starbucks with cats," Jordan says the idea behind Le Cat Cafe is simple: Cats roam freely in an environment where they feel comfortable, while customers can sip coffee, tea, or hot chocolate - all provided for free by Jordan - and mingle with the cats.

At its best, it's a low-pressure adoption center.

"It's different than when you see a cat in a cage and stick your fingers in, or you try to hold it," Jordan said. "Cats are often depressed in cages . . . there's no stimulation."

The cafe at 2713 W. Girard Ave. - squeezed amid Chinese restaurants and hardware stores, tattoo shops and bars - is a storefront unlike the others: Cats meander and jump along tables and chairs, trace ledges and windowsills, and even scale a three-foot-tall silver Eiffel Tower replica perched at the entrance.

Along one small countertop in the center of the room, two Keurig coffee machines and a basket of cups were poised, ready to brew.

The cafe takes advantage of a health regulation loophole: Food cannot be sold in any room where animals roam. So Jordan decided that no food would be sold, and the drinks - all self-serve - would be free.

The idea, foremost, for Jordan is to stage the cats, which are from her rescue, for adoption. "It's not about the coffee," she said minutes before opening her doors Sunday afternoon. "It's about the cats."

Visits, with a reservation (which is suggested), cost $12 an hour. Or $15 at the door. Adopting a cat will run a customer $110 for one, or $135 for two - "twice the fun and half the worry," Jordan said. Twelve cats will be available at the cafe at any time.

But there is also an education - and activity - component. That means events like "Purrilates," or Pilates, and "Furrytails storytime," or fairy tale story time for kids.

And with as many as 400,000 stray cats roaming the streets of Philadelphia, according to multiple local adoption center estimates, she plans to hold events and dispense information about what she calls "the cat overpopulation problem."

"They're breeding," she says, "like rabbits."

On Sunday afternoon, patrons from both sides of the river gathered along the Brewerytown sidewalk, waiting for Jordan to open her doors. By 2:30 p.m., just 30 minutes into the cafe's life, nearly 100 people stretched along the street. A Le Cat Cafe mascot, dressed as a black kitten and brandishing a T-shirt sporting the boutique's name, pranced around the crowd.

"Hey, handsome!" a woman shouted at the mascot Sunday as she passed by on the street. "Work that tail!"

Most patrons in line on Sunday said they came to play with the cats - not take one home, although adoption could be down the line.

"We're already a little bit cat crazy," said Claudia Smaletz, 55, from Clifton Heights, who owns four felines with her husband. "So we're just here for the cause."

By day's end, Jordan said, multiple attendees had expressed interest in adopting. She does not allow same-day adoptions.

Soon, however, Jordan's cafe won't stand alone in Philadelphia: A second cat cafe is on the way. Kawaii Kitty Cafe, launched by Kristin Eissler, is to open this spring in Queen Village along Fourth Street. It will operate in separate rooms within the same building: a café with an espresso bar and with small sandwiches, and another room for cats - ensuring that it complies with health regulations.

After Sunday's grand opening, Le Cat Cafe will open full time on Wednesday.

"We're here for all the people who need a cat outlet," Jordan said. "You get your cats, and we do all the dirty work."

cmccabe@philly.com

610-313-8113

@mccabe_caitlin

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