One could say San Diego Comic-Con International is like catnip for pop culture fans. But even the biggest Comic-Con enthusiasts will need a breather from those downtown crowds next week, so, cue a whole bunch of cute cats.
The Cat Café, at 472 Third Ave., is located about a half-mile from the San Diego Convention Center where Comic-Con International 2019 will be held July 18 through July 21.
The café opened in January 2015 with the distinction of being the first cat café of its kind in Southern California. The business is exactly what it sounds like: part coffee shop where baristas whip up drinks and part "cat room" where fans of felines can relax in the company of furry, four-legged friends.
The Cat Café in downtown San Diego is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. On any given day, patrons of all ages can reserve a 1-hour window for $12 that includes playtime with the resident cats, plus a drink or food item from the coffee shop.
During Comic-Con, the business will offer “Kitties & Coffee” sessions: 45-minute visits to the café that include playtime with the cats, plus a food or drink item. Those special sessions cost $20 and are open to cat fans of all ages. Any child who attends must be accompanied by at least one adult. The visits take place on the hour, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Cat Café’s website invites patrons to “get away from the chaos of Comic-Con” with these laid-back, by-reservation-only escapes to kitty paradise.
Tony Wang, owner of The Cat Café, told NBC 7 Thursday he has been offering these special sessions during Comic-Con since his café opened four years ago.
“With 135,000 extra people downtown, we have to have this special format during Comic-Con,” he explained.
By having patrons book their visits to the café ahead of time during the busy weekend, Wang said he’s able to keep things orderly at the café and, most importantly, keep the cats calm and safe.
The cats that at The Cat Café come from The Rescue House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping cats through its rescue, foster and adoption programs. Keeping the cats happy and comfortable is top priority at The Cat Café.
To truly provide a crowd-free zone during Comic-Con, the café will limit the number of people admitted into the cat playpen to 12 for each one of these Comic-Con sessions. There will also be no more than a dozen cats in the playpen at once, though there may be fewer.
Due to the limited spaces, Wang recommends patrons book their Comic-Con weekend slots at least 24 hours ahead of time. The sessions typically sell out. Wang said walk-ins may be able to get in, but those visits will be limited, and those guests will only get 30 minutes of playtime with the cats.
Once patrons are inside, it’s time to relax and take a break.
"People can get away, chill, and relax in the AC with friendly cats," said Wang. "We call it 'purr-rapy' or 'purr-therapy.' Petting a cat really destresses you."
Wang said patrons can visit the café in their Comic-Con costume, as long as the get-up doesn’t include a scary mask, big, bulky props or anything else that might spook the kitties.
"If you’re dressed as Iron Man, you’re probably okay," he told NBC 7. "Darth Vader, maybe not so much."
To be respectful to the cats, patrons may be asked to take off their masks before heading into the cat room.
Wang told NBC 7 he’s looking forward to a busy Comic-Con weekend at his café.
He said patrons will also find a pop-up market on the café's patio during Comic-Con where food will be sold, including superhero-inspired cookies from local bakery, The Cravory.
Wang said he keeps hosting the Comic-Con sessions year after year because many visitors have told him their stop into The Cat Café was a highlight of their Comic-Con adventure.
Humbled, he said he somehow doesn’t always believe that, but he’s happy to provide a nice experience for visitors.
And, for those who fall in love with the felines, all of the cats at the café are up for adoption. Patrons can get information on the adoption process from staffers at the business.
During its first two years in business, The Cat Café worked with the San Diego Humane Society to find forever homes for adoptable cats and was able to place 219 cats in good homes. The business has been partnering with The Rescue House since February 2017, and continues to work to find homes for kittens, adult cats, senior cats and cats with special needs.
The Cat Café is one of two cat cafés operating in San Diego County. Pouncing on the trend, another café – Cat & Craft – opened this past January in Vista, also offering coffee and kitties under one roof.
The trend is global.
Since 2016, more than 60 operating cat cafés – and counting – have opened in the United States. The trend is native to Taiwan and Japan but, over the past few years, the cat café fever caught on all over the world.
To get a glimpse of cat cafés operating across the U.S., click here.