Having seen pictures of the original cat café in Japan and Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in London, I envisioned spending a relaxing hour sipping a cup of coffee at a small table surrounded by a dozen of my favourite feline friends.
The cat cafés already in existence are bizarre and incredible: cute chairs and coffee tables, cats jumping onto every available surface while waitresses serve food and drink, and numerous spaces for people to enjoy a good book and a cup of coffee with a beautiful cat beside them.
Basically, it’s all about the weirdness of being in a café filled with cats, and it’s this gimmick that gets the tourists and the cat fanatics in.
Unfortunately, by branding themselves under this same legendary “cat café” label, Melbourne’s version fell a little short of expectations.
Before I begin, I want to say that Cat Cafe Melbourne is an amazing cause – all of its feline residents are from local animal shelters, and the $10 entry that you pay covers the costs of their care (food and beverages are extra). People are often concerned that the welfare of the cats is compromised in places in such as these, and I can assure you that it definitely is not – they are properly vaccinated and fed, and they have plenty of space, stimulation and company.
First Impressions & Setup
Melbourne’s Cat Café is housed in a beautiful two story building next to Victoria Market in the center of Melbourne.
You begin at ground level, stepping into a kitty gift shop containing an array of cat notebooks, cat scarves and cat toys. If you love all things cat-related then you will enjoy this space as much as I did.
My long-suffering boyfriend and I were handed lanyards along with specific instructions not to pick the cats up and to wash our hands before heading up the stairs. The man on the desk was helpful and friendly, and even let us start our session early as we turned up ahead of schedule.
Walking up the grand winding staircase, you enter into what can only be described as ‘Cat Heaven’:
There is one main living room and three smaller rooms. Each room is filled with an abundance of toys and places for the cats to play, as well as some cosy spots for them to sleep and hide.
However, as more and more people began to arrive and the smaller rooms became too cramped to even enter them (so much so that I couldn’t get any decent photos of the small rooms!), and after ordering our beverages, it became apparent that Cat Cafe Melbourne may be a lovely cat sanctuary but it is unfortunately not a relaxing, atmospheric cat café.
The cats are absolute superstars – they are all placid, patient, easy-going and tolerant. I quickly fell in love with Clara, a cat with a passion for cake.
Most of the cats were enjoying their afternoon naps when we arrived, lounging in patches of sunlight or snuggled into their hideaways
Tip: Cats love their sleep so it’s best to visit in the morning when they are more likely to be up and awake. Also, don’t be disappointed if the cats aren’t jumping up at you and ignore your attempts to play with them. They receive an abundance of attention all day every day, and they can’t realistically play with all of their fans!
Overall, I loved the cats and thought that they were well worth the $10.
The rooms are bright, sunny and homely, and the cats are well-chosen.
With the right staff and fellow visitors, you could have an amazing hour at Cat Cafe Melbourne.
However, there were three very notable problems that unfortunately marred my visit:
1. The museum/sanctuary feels
The biggest problem with Cat Cafe Melbourne was that it felt more like a cat museum where you pay to pet someone else’s cats for an hour under the watchful eyes of a curator.
Aside from a tiny two-seater table in the corner of one room, there were no tables or chairs – it is more like a private home that has been converted into a residential cat sanctuary than a cat café.
People weren’t sipping coffee and chatting across a table, there was no one sitting in an arm chair reading a book with a cat in their lap, and there were no friendly waitresses eagerly telling you anything about the cats or the menu.
Instead there were six adults sitting on the floor of a very, very quiet living room trying to play with two cats (all the others were asleep). None of the visitors really spoke to one another, and apart from some classical music playing softly in the background, there was almost no sound to be heard.
One lone member of staff silently surveyed us from a short distance and did not interact with anyone unless directly asked a question. We were never offered enthusiastic stories about the cats and their shenanigans, nor were we asked any questions about ourselves or our personal experiences with cats. Instead, the staff seemed to be there for the sole purpose of ensuring that we behaved appropriately. In fact, the member of staff on duty was quite rude when our hour was up – he urgently ushered out of the room as though we were going to try and sneak in a few extra minutes. I left the café feeling weirdly anxious and on-edge; so much so that I was actually relieved when our hour was up!
There is something inherently awkward about a group of people staring at some cats in a stranger’s very quiet living room. Without a relaxed coffee shop atmosphere, having staff that put visitors at ease and make them feel at home is essential.
2. Not a “Cat Café”
My boyfriend and I were the only people to order any food or drink in the entire hour that we were there, and we quickly wished we hadn’t.
In the absence of proper tables and chairs, there wasn’t really anywhere for us to sit down and eat our food. To make matters worse, we were not given any plates or trays which left us awkwardly holding the coffees and muffins in our hands (in addition to our coats and bags) as we walked from room to room. In the end, we perched on one of the sofas in the main living room, keeping our coffees on the floor by our feet, trying desperately not to get muffin crumbs everywhere.
Without a proper place to actually sit and enjoy our beverages, we found ourselves just getting in the way of other visitors trying to play with the cats. After ten minutes of awkwardness, we binned our remaining cake and coffee, and moved away from the sofa to give someone else a chance to sit down.
“It is unfair to be happy to cash in on the “cat café” gimmick and name, and to then imply that people are wrong or unreasonable to expect it.”
3. Terrible coffee
I afterwards discovered that their coffee is actually from a vending machine, which explains my coffee’s dishwater-like taste and consistency. I am in no way a coffee snob and I was not expecting fancy coffee or delicate china cups, but even I was shocked at how awful it was.
Melbourne Cat Cafe’s website defensively states that they are “not a cafe, but a cat cafe” and “if you are looking for barista coffee and a full restaurant menu we will not be able to accommodate your wants.”
Looking on Trip Advisor after my visit, I noticed that some people’s reviews were almost accusatory – if a visitor expected a café and complained about the lack thereof, then they were obviously not t”real” cat lovers.
I understand that due to the council’s restrictions Cat Cafe Melbourne can only serve a limited range of food and beverages, and I was definitely there for the cats first and foremost. However, “cat café” automatically raises certain expectations in people’s minds based on the cat cafés that already exist. I didn’t think there would be the best barista coffee or cooked food, but I did expect some tables and chairs, maybe a coffee shop chalk board listing the menu for decoration, and some half-decent coffee worth charging for.
It is unfair to be happy to cash in on the “cat café” gimmick and name, and to then imply that people are wrong or unreasonable to expect it. If Cat Cafe Melbourne was called Cat Playhouse Melbourne, it would be another matter.
Should you visit?
Melbourne’s Cat Cafe is not a cafe in any sense of the word, and consequently does not live up to the standards set by its international predecessors. If that’s the experience that you are looking for, you will be disappointed. But if you just want to play with some of the friendliest cats you will ever meet, visit the fanciest rescue center you will ever see and support a brilliant cause, then it will be $10 well spent.
Most of my disappointment was down to specific variables such as limited customer service. I am sure that if you had a good chat with a fellow visitor and/or had more talkative staff then your experience would be ten times more enjoyable than mine. And no amount of awkwardness can take away from the awesomeness of the cats – I really enjoyed playing with them and getting to know their individual characters!
- Costs – $10 entry per person. Beverages are not included – tea, coffee and snacks around $3 each.
- Length of visit – 1 hour.
- Booking – book online.
- Overall experience – 3/5 – Wonderful rescue center for cats, but definitely not a cat cafe when compared to other cat cafes opened elsewhere in the world. If they called it “Melbourne’s Cat Penthouse” I would give it a 4/5.
What was your experience?
Did you visit Cat Cafe Melbourne and have a great time? Or did you have an experience similar to mine? Either way, make sure you comment below and share your thoughts. No one visit is the same so it’s always good to hear a variety of opinions!