My neighborhood in SE Portland, Oregon, is like a big outdoor cat lounge. Walk down the street any halfway sunny day and you’ll see a cat show of long and short haired, tabbies and gingers, Siamese to Manx. If you’re lucky, a few will even come forward to rub against your hand.
So why do we need a cat lounge? This isn’t Tokyo or New York, where many people live pet-deprived lives in tiny apartments. But Purringtons, Portland’s first cat lounge, is getting plenty of business. During this unique café’s first few months of business, some guests have returned multiple times.
In 2013, owner Kristen Castillo saw an online video of a Parisian cat café. The next day, she was plotting how to quit her job and open a cat café in Portland. But with all the necessary—and pesky–health permits, the process took a while. Purringtons finally opened for business in January 2015.
A Saturday Night Visit
I reserved my spot the day before. Visitors can make their reservations online between two hours and two months ahead of their desired time. My friend, Heide, and I showed up about 10 minutes early for our 7 PM Saturday slot. Others were already waiting in the long, narrow café adjacent to the cat lounge itself. We ordered tea and hot chocolate to take into the lounge and read the rules: Use hand sanitizer before entering. No picking cats up. Drunk people will be ejected. Let sleeping cats lie.
At 7 PM, the previous visitors left and, our server, Castillo ushered our group of 14 in. This meant the people outnumbered the cats more than two to one. Usually there are eight to 10 cats in residence, but tonight there were only six. In fact, our visit was discounted to $6 per hour, rather than the usual $8, because of the cat shortage.
I was surprised to learn that Purringtons has a hard time keeping its cats. The Cat Adoption Team, which has a shelter in Sherwood, supplies suitable cats to the café. That is, friendly felines who have a high tolerance for people and other cats. All of the cats at Purrington’s are adoptable. And many have already left for their forever homes.
So what do you do in the café? You can sit quietly and hope that a cat jumps into your lap. This approach worked for me. A soft black and white cat purred for a minute before hopping off. Or you can grab a feathered toy and vie for a cat’s attention. A lot of this was going on Saturday night, since three of the six cats had put up figurative do-not-disturb signs by curling up and napping on high shelves. That left 14 people trying to lure three cats with feathers.
You can also snack in the cat lounge. The menu is limited but assembled with an eye toward making all customers happy. Who doesn’t like chips with homemade salsa? Carnivores can order the meat and cheese plate, while vegans dip crackers and veggies into herbed cashew dip. For dessert, try a cream cheese brownie or frosted, cat-shaped cookie.
Purringtons offers three local beers on tap, plus beer by the bottle. Serving wine posed a special challenge, Castillo told me. Since cats like to jump on tables, and wine glasses are easy to knock over, they chose to serve wine in larger, more stable glasses.
Ever since an incident where a cat dragged a scone off somebody’s plate, felines are only allowed on tables when guests aren’t eating. But you better move that cat very politely or risk being thrown out.
Guests immediately notice the mural that runs the length of the long, narrow space. Three friends of the owner – Cathy Libnic, Hector Sanches and Lance Lovett – are responsible. A boldly painted outer space theme shows kitty astronauts flying in UFOs. In their spare time, when they aren’t designing murals for cat lounges, some of these artists also do graphic design for a large sportswear company in Beaverton.
Will I Return?
Local cat lovers will probably want to visit Purringtons at least once. I’ll visit again with out-of-town visitors, especially if I want to demonstrate Portland’s cultural superiority over their hometown. But I don’t see this becoming a regular hangout for me.
And neither does my cat. When I came home, he sniffed me, gave me a curious look, and reminded me that he’s happy to sit on the kitchen table while I drink coffee and eat snacks. For free. –-Story and photos by Teresa Bergen, RFT Vegan/Vegetarian Editor
3529 NE Martin Luthern King Blvd