TOT The Cat Cafe
TOT the Cat Cafe, located at College and Spadina, has won the race to become the city's first (highly anticipated) cat cafe . My friend and I are apparently so excited it's finally here (we're both currently feline-less, for various reasons, yet cat fanatics nonetheless) we turn out to be the first two in line to enter on the official opening day.
From the street, you can peer into the long, windowed room housing the sweet kitties, and if you're lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the little purr-balls perched on a cat tower or curled up in a plush paw seat.
This cat room has definitely received a lot more attention decor-wise than the separate cafe area in the back, which still appears to be a work-in-progress, with bare yellow walls and some communal high-top and counter seating.
Espresso-based drinks on offer include a "calico macchiato" or a "black cat mocha" ($3.85/$4.35/$4.65, single shot), along with brewed coffee ($2.05/$2.30/$2.55) and loose leaf teas ($2.05-$3.05). So far, nibbles only consist of a few cakes ($2/slice), but when the kitchen is up and running, there will be soups and sandwiches on the menu as well.
Let's be honest though - we're really just here for the cats.
Here's how it works - for now (TOT is still refining the way it operates): if you're here to play with the four-legged meowsters, head to the back and place a food or beverage order first (a previously proposed $8 entry fee has been waived for the time being) and sign up to enter the cat room.
When it's your turn (a max of a dozen people can be inside at a time), you'll put a pass around your neck, exchange your shoes for a pair of comfy - and adorable - cat slippers and sanitize your hands at a dispenser before entering. You can bring your drink and food with you while you hang with the cats, as long as you don't share your snacks with them.
Inside the room, there are just a couple more rules to follow: refrain from flash photography and from picking up the cats (if they decide to come cuddle in your lap, then by all means let 'em). If there's a long waiting list, then there may also be limits imposed on how much time you can spend in the room.
At the moment, there are five felines to meet - I'm told eight is the max there will ever be - specially chosen and supplied by the Toronto Humane Society (there may be future partnerships with other cat rescues in the city).
Information about each cat is posted on the wall, and all of them are available for adoption. Would-be cat owners can apply to take one home furever through the cafe, with the Humane Society making the final decisions on successful applicants.
Kenneth Chai and Scott Tan, the co-owners who managed to pull off the feat of opening this place, wanted to offer a different experience for those looking to adopt from a shelter, allowing cat lovers to interact with prospective pets in a more relaxed environment than a cage.
Chai tells me the origin of the cafe's name stems from the sound his partially blind, fat calico Olen - who was supposed to be the official furry manager of the place, but sadly passed away from a stroke just a couple of weeks before it opened (she's the cartoon in its logo) - made when choking/coughing up hairballs, which Chai thought almost sounded like "Toronto."
We notice many of the cats here are black, as they tend to have the lowest adoption rates (people, black cats are the best! They deserve homes too, dammit!), and we start to bond with one named Finch, a sleek cutie that appears to like coffee cups, cameras and the toys provided in the room for play.
It takes all the self-discipline I can muster not to apply to adopt immediately. (It really wouldn't be wise for me to take on a cat right now.) Maybe it's a good thing I no longer live just around the corner from here; if I did, the temptation might prove to be cat-astrophic. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Photos by Jesse Milns.