Recently, cat cafés have been popping up in the U.S. from California to Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York. Cat cafés are coffee shops where customers order food and drinks, and pay to play with cats in a separate vicinity. All of these cafés are similar, but Koneko Cat Café — koneko meaning "kitten" in Japanese —claims itself as the first Japanese cat café in America. 

As the owner of two cats myself, I knew I had to check out this place.

Koneko Cafe's History

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Koneko Cat Café opened in LES in late October by Benjamin Kalb. When I visited Koneko, I was surprised to see him working there. After joking that he wasn't the owner, I was able to talk with him for a couple of minutes. 

Kalb traveled extensively around Asia, especially Japan, visiting many cat cafés. His experiences ranged from high-profile cafés to "dumpy" ones that looked like people's living rooms. He wanted to take the best parts of the cafés he visited, mesh it with NYC traits, and bring his own version of a cat café to New York. 

As the proud owner of three felines, Ben wants Koneko to be a "celebration of cats", show the true roots of this concept, and have many cats be adopted. Many social places for dogs exist, he says, such as dog parks and doggy daycares. For cat cafés all around the world, they create a special niche for people to interact with cats. 

Koneko Cafe

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If you are in the neighborhood, you can easily walk by this gem. But inside, Koneko is an intimate and simple café where you listen to jazzy lounge music, eat and have a cup of coffee, and admire the cats. 

Around my visit on Friday at 5:00pm, there wasn't much activity, and the whole atmosphere was mellow and relaxing. It was a slow environment as people came in and out to check out the goodies and watch the animals. 

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Cute merchandise ranging from hats to t-shirts and mugs are displayed for purchase. I bought a tote bag. I couldn't control myself.

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Two big menus take up most of a wall with a limited amount of drinks, snacks, and desserts. The menu even includes the wifi password.

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A small display case exhibited only a few pastries left, but they all looked very delicious to eat. 

The whole layout is simple and minimalistic, and you can see the cats lounging and napping in the cattery from the entrance of Koneko. 

The Catteries

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The food may look and taste great, but the real main attraction is the cats. Ten steps into the café and you are in front of the glass wall of the upper cattery. Each visitor is given a red sticker with the logo to identify who is going in the cattery. 

The cat guide, Sharon, welcomed us and told the rules: don't pick up the cats, use flash photography, or use your hands as toys. Once we put our coats on the rack and exchanged our shoes for white slippers, we sanitized our hands and went to meet the cats. 

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Many of the cats were napping at this time (except for this cat shown above) so there wasn't much activity; to my surprise, they were all calm and very used to human presence. Twenty people are allowed in the cattery at a time, which seems crowded, so it was very pleasant with only a few people visiting.

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There are three main areas: the upper cattery, the catio (a cat patio), and the lower cattery. Soothing music plays throughout the whole place. 

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A huge colorful mural is on the back wall of the catio. Because it was a chilly day, the catio was closed off to the public and the cats.

While enjoying the cats' company, I chatted with our cat guide Sharon who has worked at Koneko for about a month. She told me how the cats are taken care of and what a great experience it is working there.

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All of the cats had their check-ups, and have been neutered or spayed. The employees clean the cats' ears and cut their nails every week, and all of the cats are fed wet food. The litter boxes are very well hidden so the catteries don't smell at all. 

The cats are from Anjellicle Cats Rescue which is a nearby adoption shelter. The maximum amount of cats allowed in Koneko is twenty cats, but the amount differs each week based on the number of adoptions. 

Final Thoughts

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Overall, Koneko gives its customers an authentic and intimate experience of enjoying treats and playing with these adorable animals. Compared to other cat cafés in NYC — Meow Parlor and Brooklyn Cat Café — Koneko is more pricey with cat interaction and food. It is twenty dollars per person to go inside the catteries. 

I, however, have no problem with the fee. I will definitely be back. 

Spoon Tip: The busiest times are during Saturdays and Sundays so it's best to go on a weekday; if you can only go on weekends, you should reserve a spot for the hour. 

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