Minnesota's first cat cafe is finally here

Annabelle sits in the lap of Cafe Meow owner Jessica Burge
Annabelle the cat sits in the lap of The Cafe Meow owner Jessica Burge in Minneapolis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Minnesota feline fans, rejoice. You'll finally be able to get your catfeine fix when the state's first cat cafe opens in Minneapolis this Friday.

For the uninitiated, we'll clear this up right away: No, it's not a cafe for your cat. The Cafe Meow in the Uptown area is a coffee shop where you can also play with local rescue cats that are up for adoption.

Cafes with a side of kitten cuddles originated in Taiwan in the late 1990s before spreading to Japan, where they exploded in popularity. In recent years, the concept has made its way across the globe.

And meow, Minnesota. (Sorry, that's the last cat pun we'll use today.)

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The cafe has been a dream four years in the making.

Thea perches on a cat perch
Thea perches on a cat perch inside the cat lounge side of The Cafe Meow in Minneapolis.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"When I was in my last semester of university, I was looking at what I was going to be doing — I was thinking web developing — I went to school for graphic design," said Jessica Burge, one of the cafe's co-owners. "But then Purina ONE had a cat cafe that popped up in New York City and I was like, 'Well, oh my gosh, this is it, this is what we need to do.'"

She mentioned the idea to longtime friend Danielle Rasmussen who agreed that was a neat concept but didn't immediately jump on the idea.

Months later, they went to the Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The attendance that year was enough to reassure them their plan was a great one — more than 10,000 people showed up.

"We looked at each other and we said 'OK, Minneapolis needs one of these. We should actually do this because it could do really well," Rasmussen said.

They plunged forward into the world of learning about zoning laws, scouting out locations and figuring out how to run a business. They considered a space in Dinkytown at the University of Minnesota, but eventually settled on their Uptown location thanks to easy access to the freeway, its walkability and proximity to other businesses.

The cafe is divided into two rooms, separated by a wall and double doors: the coffee shop on one side, with the cat lounge on the other. The double doors help ensure that the cats remain in the playroom and don't sneak out underfoot.

The Cafe Meow owners Danielle Rasmussen, left, and Jessica Burge
The Cafe Meow owners Danielle Rasmussen, left, and Jessica Burge as Oveo sits in a box below them.
Evan Frost | MPR News

In the cat lounge, felines roam freely — they can climb on the jungle gym, nap in cubbies or stake out a spot on the couch. Litter boxes are artfully hidden in custom benches.

The felines, all from local animal rescues, will generally live at the cafe until they are adopted. The Cafe Meow can have up to 15 cats at a time.

"We are like a foster home," Rasmussen said.

That concept was important to both women from the get-go.

"There are a lot of cats that sit at rescues or in fosters and you don't get to see their personalities," Burge said. "That's how people fall in love with them, is getting to really know the cats. We figure this space will provide that for people so when they're looking to adopt, it'll be that comfortable, 'Oh, I love this cat and this is why,' you know, this moment that you shared together."

You may need to wait a little if you want to visit the kitties this weekend during grand opening festivities. Fans have been eagerly awaiting The Cafe Meow's arrival for years and their reservations for cat playtimes are booked all weekend. Limited walk-ins will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

A cat named Tinkerbell snoozes
Tinkerbell snoozes inside The Cafe Meow. The cafe features a coffee shop on one side, with cats ready to play, snuggle or hang out on the other.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Rasmussen said it's both "terrifying and thrilling" to finally open their doors.

"We've never done this before. It's always scary the first time, but also really exciting," she said. "It's fulfilling to see how happy it makes people."

You're probably wondering...

Can I bring my cat?

No. Please do not bring your cat to the cafe. While your feline is probably lovely, the premise is that you play with the adoptable cats already in the lounge.

Nani hangs out on top of a couch
Nani hangs out on top of a couch inside of the cat lounge side of The Cafe Meow. All of the cats available to pet are also available for adoption.
Evan Frost | MPR News

How much does it cost?

$10 per person for one hour. Book your times here.

Where are the cats in the lounge from?

The Cafe Meow has partnered with local animal rescues like No Kitten Left Behind, Minnesota Animal Rescue and Ruff Start Rescue.

All cats are up-to-date on their shots, healthy, friendly with adults and children and playful.

How do I adopt one of the cats?

You won't be able to simply walk out with one if you fall in love. You'll go through the regular adoption process with the rescue, which usually involves filling out an application, agreeing to a home visit and paying an adoption fee.

Cat themed coasters, books and games line the cat lounge
Cat themed coasters, books and games line the shelves and coffee tables of The Cafe Meow.
Evan Frost | MPR News

What if I don't want to play with the cats?

No problem! On the other side of the cat lounge is a coffee shop. You can grab a drink or snack and go, or watch the cats from the windows inside the cafe.

Can I bring food into the lounge?

Yes. If you buy food or drinks in the coffee shop, you're welcome to bring those purchases inside the cat room. All drinks will be placed into a to-go cup with lids because, well, cats like to knock things over. You'll be asked to keep an eye on your food and drinks while you're in the lounge.

Are there any rules I need to follow?

You'll need to use hand sanitizer before petting any of the cats. That's a must. Cafe-goers also will not be able to pick up cats; instead, they'll need to ask the cat lounge host to bring them a cat. Also, visitors are asked not to wake up a sleeping cat. Soft pets and photos are fine.

Are children allowed?

Absolutely, but all kids under 13 must be accompanied and supervised by an adult.

A cat named Oveo snuggles inside one of many hiding places
Oveo snuggles inside one of the many hiding places inside of The Cafe Meow's cat lounge.
Evan Frost | MPR News

What if a cat scratches or bites me?

Enter at your own risk. While all the cats in the playroom are friendly and like to be around people, that doesn't mean there won't be an occasional nip.

That's one reason why people are asked not to pick up unfamiliar cats in the lounge.

That said, if you are bitten or scratched, let the cat host or a barista know right away.

I'm there! Where is the Cafe Meow and when are they open?

Find them at 2323 Hennepin Ave. S. in Minneapolis. They're open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Sundays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Cafe Meow is closed Mondays.