As the 21st century gets into its stride, it seems that cafés serving merely coffee and cake no longer cut the mustard.
A spate of unusual concept cafés have made the news over the past year, including the notorious Cereal Killer café in London dishing up breakfast cereal for £3.20 a bowl. There’s also the logistically problematic ‘owl café’ which, after proving to be extremely popular in Tokyo, enjoyed a successful pop-up stint in London back in March.
Far more palatable among the ranks of themed cafés has been the idea of the ‘cat café’, spaces which offer feline enthusiasts somewhere to enjoy a coffee, a panini and an opportunity to meet some new four-legged friends.
“You’re going to a cat café?” Mam said, looking confused.
“Yes,” I answered. “A cat café.”
“As in, a café with cats?”
“The cats are in the café?”
As the name implies, Mog on the Tyne is a café with cats. The first such venture was way back in 1998 in Taiwan. Cat Flower Garden was a success and the concept made its way over to Japan where, after the establishment of the first cat café in 2005, there are now more than 40 cafés of this ilk. Cat cafés have slowly but surely started to spring up across the UK. Newcastle’s first cat café, the aptly named Mog on the Tyne, opened in July of this year amid a flurry of excitement which saw the small business swamped by thousands of bookings in its first few weeks.
I meet a friend at the bottom of Pudding Chare, the narrow street on which Mog on the Tyne is situated, and we head up past new student accommodation and old cocktail bars, speculating about what we’re about to experience. Arriving at the business, we have to stand outside for a couple of minutes as departing customers pile into a small reception area to put on their shoes and coats. When we enter the reception, we’re asked to sanitise our hands, remove our footwear, and put on some purple slippers. Then, we’re allowed into the café.
It’s a simple room, brightly lit and very clean, with plain furniture and a graffiti art mural on one wall. I’d been imagining some kind of plush and opulent salon interior, but instead the owners have gone for a more modern, functional look with toys, cushions and blankets placed around the room. We’re given a clipboard with some house rules attached to it: no loud noises, do not pick up the cats and don’t attempt to wake them when they are catnapping. Behind this is a menu – food is very reasonably priced at £3.50 a ‘pawnini’, and with the £5 entrance fee this is greatly appreciated. There’s also a sheet containing pictures and names of all of the feline stars of the show.
We both order Mediterranean vegetable paninis, and I order a mocha which comes with a paw print stencilled on the surface in chocolate. The kitchen area is behind a gate to ensure that the cats cannot enter, although this doesn’t stop ‘Gizmo’ from hanging about, peering hopefully through the slots in the door. The food is nice, simple and fairly small when it comes to portion size, although Mog on the Tyne does offer an evening service which may be more generous. Let’s be honest, though, cat cafés aren’t about the food, are they? I could be eating a bag of Doritos and I probably wouldn’t notice. There are more immediately pressing issues for a cat-lover starved – due to years of residing in rented accommodation – of a cat of my own.
My eye is immediately caught by Sir Francis, a Proustian black cat with white moustachioed markings under his nose who spends the entirety of our visit walking back and forth along a wooden bridge suspended from the ceiling or, when the mood takes him, lounging laconically on a blanket, surveying his admirers with casual disdain. Waiting for my food to arrive, I’m offered some cat treats by one of the friendly ‘cat nannies’, and spend the next five minutes feeding Sybil, a beautiful half-Bengal tabby kitten who, when the treats dry up, haughtily turns her back on me and returns to a favoured cushion, taking a little piece of my heart with her. Cats are everywhere but they’re mostly asleep when we visit. This is a shame, but can’t be helped. It’s understandable. It must be a hard life, after all, being constantly admired all day.
In the time that we’re there, we’re amused by the reactions of passers-by who, strolling down the street towards Central Station, suddenly notice Sybil and the even more beautiful Tinks in the window (I’m rubbish at specifying the different breeds of cats – the best way I can describe her is that her fur looks sort of like shiny beige, white and grey rainfall). They react as though they’ve never seen a cat before. An old man stoops and stares through the window. A group of teenage girls go into meltdown as Tinks stretches and yawns. I’m irresistibly reminded of Marc Bolan who merely had to flick his hair to send audiences into a frenzy.
I’ve heard arguments on both sides for the welfare of animals in establishments like Mog on the Tyne. While I’m no expert on cats, I have to say that they all looked extremely healthy and happy. The cats have plenty of places to snuggle and hide (should they want to) and they are all adopted from the Westgate Ark shelter, and have been specially selected for their sociable temperaments. There is a two-hour break in the middle of the day for the cats to enjoy some downtime, and the staff constantly monitor their behaviour to watch out for signs of stress or unhappiness. I have no qualms about the happiness of the animals.
We leave Mog on the Tyne happy with our experience and both agree that we’d be likely to recommend it to cat-loving friends. I’m unlikely to start meeting mates there regularly in the way I do with Intermezzo or the Quilliam Brothers Tea House, and I can’t imagine settling down there with a good book on a rainy afternoon. But for a special treat you can’t go wrong with a Catte Latte, a pawnini, and an hour spent in the company of ten adorable mogs.
Photos by Phil Pounder