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Sydney’s only cat café is doing a big pussycat stretch after taking a prolonged nap and is ready to welcome back human guests. When the lockdowns closed up much of Sydney in March, as a small family-run business, Catmosphere knew it would be in trouble. And while owners Darren Eldred and Edouard Gestier had many of the same concerns as other café owners who had to abruptly close up shop, they’ve also had the welfare of their resident cats to consider. The felines are another reason they waited it out a little longer than most to reopen. “You can’t really disinfect a cat,” Darren told Time Out.
If snuggling up with a cup of coffee and a brood of fluffy new friends sounds pretty good to you, it’s about time you got down to Catmosphere. The café reopened on Thursday, July 2. We spoke to Darren about the logistics of running a cat café, and how the team managed to keep this haven for rescued cats and the people who love them afloat during lockdowns.
“When we got word that we were going to have to close, we knew the only thing we could do was let people know how they could help,” he says. “We already had a very loyal and compassionate support base, the majority of which were part of our monthly sponsorship program – a recurring payment that grants people two visits a month, weekly email updates on the cats, and lots of other goodies. When we let people know we were in trouble but that we were going to be adding livestreaming as part of our sponsorships, we saw an immediate response in sponsor subscriptions. By the end of April, we had grown that support network by 500 per cent.”
In addition to this, the café has also continued to sell adorable Catmosphere-exclusive enamel pins via the website, and they also started a GoFundMe in response to requests from people asking to give one-off contributions.
“This helped with our additional ongoing expenses, and the community managed to raise a further $8,000 through that. Unlike many other businesses, we couldn't just close our doors and leave when the government shut us down. Our cats still very much needed us every day. Not just to tend to their basic needs, but to give them the companionship they were so used to. So our team was still going into work every single day, and the café still had many ongoing expenses. But the support from the community really helped us get through the worst of it.”
So now the team (and that includes its furry residents) are welcoming back guests, what can you expect from a visit?
“At Catmosphere, we do things slightly differently to most other cat cafés around the world,” says Darren. “Instead of our cats all being in one large space, we effectively zone them based on their age, energy level, and adoption status. Smaller groups of people with smaller groups of cats has really worked for us and as such, we've been able to advise people which experience would be better for them based on what they're looking for.”
The Playroom is where Catmosphere’s rescue kittens and junior cats reside. During physical distancing regulations, it can be booked as a private experience for two people ($55 for 40 minutes). According to Darren, it is an “experience for people who are looking for short bursts of hilarious hijinks and wholesome snuggles”. The more chilled out adult cats hang out in the Cat Lounge. “This is perfect for those looking to de-stress, connect with cats in a chill, safe space, and ultimately leave with some added zen. The majority of the cats in this space have been adopted by us and are amazing ‘advocats’ for rescue cats everywhere,” says Darren. This room can also be booked privately at the moment, and $100 covers five people for 50 minutes. If you’re looking for an escape from the city in the city, the Treehouse is for you. “It offers an exotic cat-friendly tiki lounge theme with hanging plants, a cosy fireplace, a balcony just for the cats, and a population of adoptable young cats (aged 1+) who have more often than not been raised by us since they were kittens.” You can rent this room for up to four people for $80 for 50 minutes.
There is also the Catflix Cat Cinema experience, which allows you to get in some quality time with some quality cats while watching a movie on the big screen. “This is a very popular experience with not just visitors but the cats too, as they now know people will be sitting for a long period of time, so they'll be safe to snuggle up on laps without being disturbed,” says Darren. You can currently book at a discounted price of $180 for five people (including drinks for the humans, and treats and blankets to help you woo the cats).
“For five years now Catmosphere has been part of Sydney and we count ourselves very lucky that Sydney has embraced us too,” says Darren. “This little café is not just a safe space for displaced cats and kittens, but being queer-owned and run, it's also a safe space for people. We take pride in our cats, our team, our visitors, and our cause – and we're hoping for many, many more years of that, because a city like Sydney needs a little slice of joy like Catmosphere.”
Catmosphere is now open four days a week, Thursday to Sunday. Online bookings are required. Opening times and booking durations have changed, see the website right meow to make a booking and find out more. And when you go, don’t wear black – unless you want to walk out looking like a cat fur lamington.