Cake, cats and jazz by the window on a lazy weekend morning; it sounds like a scene straight out of a Korean stationery set. Yet this purr-fect slice of heaven exists amid a stretch of bustling F&B and pub joints along the scenic route of Boat Quay.
The cat cafe concept is no stranger to Asia; hundreds of furry-themed franchises dot Japan and Korea, with even a sheep cafe of bleating, four legged darlings drawing patrons by the dozens.
So does Cat Cafe Neko no Niwa (which is Japanese for ‘cat garden’) live up to its cutesy, cuddly counterparts in the East Asia? There’s only one way to find out. 😉
Getting there is a piece of cake, seeing how Boat Quay is conveniently situated between Raffles Place and Clark Quay. Located on the second floor of a shophouse, the cafe itself is a tad tricky to find, with little more than an otherwise nondescript sign indicating its premises, making it a hidden gem of sorts for ardent kitty fans.
Its cutesy paintings which dotted the dim staircase leading up to its front door hinted at more good things to come. 😉
In case you were expecting to be greeted by a horde of tail raising, wide eyed felines; you won’t. Stepping beyond its glass doors, I found myself facing a counter top filled with kitty-related merchandise (which is a really clever way of promoting other businesses, and a trio of staff who immediately proffered a rule book on how to interact with their furry, whiskered colleagues.
Oh, and you’ll have to keep your shoes and wash and sanitise your hands before you’re let into the cat condo. Sounds like a surprisingly stringent cafe that’s built on fun and casual play, but with the health of the cats at stake, it’s a pretty reasonable procedure. Besides, the staff are really patient in directing and guiding their customers so it’s a big plus for me. 😀
The play area, or “condo” looked every bit like the cat cafes I’ve read about in Korea: wood-themed furniture and apple white walls drenched in the early afternoon sunlight, with beds and cushions abound for humans and felines alike to lie back and chill out.
Soft, jazzy beats permeated the place, giving it a relaxed atmosphere quite unlike the urban crowd and smog that we’ve long resigned ourselves to.
With booths, toys and games arranged around a row of scratching posts and kitty beds, it’s clear that the spotlight is focused on the cafe’s 13 cats (some of which were sleeping, others were romping about for a bit of attention). 😉
What’s amazing about Neko no Niwa is that all its cats are rescues; strays that were picked up and cared for till they became the plump, loving companions that they are today. 🙂 Judging by their bright eyes and contented purrs, it’s hard to guess that they were once slumming it out on the roadside and fighting to survive another day. Who knew that our time here made an indirect contribution to a good cause? 😉
Though flooded with love and attention from both the customers and the staff (who would occasionally peek in to serve drinks or break up minor scuffles between the cats), the cats were certainly not short on love. I’m no expert on felines, but I could tell they were in for a bit of playing and pampering. One of them even crawled under another customer’s skirt to hide from the other cats! Talk about attention seeking. 😛
And did I mention how oh so photogenic they are? It’s like they instinctively know how to pose for the camera when you want to snap a few shots of them. 😛
In the unlikely event that you tire of the cats (or just need a way to get their attention), Neko no Niwa also has a humble selection of books, games and toys for you to while the time away. Think Settlers and Minds without the boisterous noise!
Or you could just lie back and watch the cats’ gently rhythmic breathing as they sleep; it has a calming effect that’s almost therapeutic. Kind of like watching fish swim about in a tank. 😛
And what’s a cafe without cake and coffee? Drinks like hot chocolate and coffee start at $2.50 a cup, while artisanal cakes are priced around $5 for hungry customers. Had a slice of Strawberry Shortcake which caught my eye from the moment I stepped in (yes, even before the cats):
Light, fluffy and generously layered with cream and fruit, the shortcake was worth every penny despite the steep price for such a small slice. Proves that Neko no Niwa delivers in all aspects of its service, not just its cats. 😉 The Ice Chocolate I had along with the cake was refreshing and sweet too, and was just the drink to have after a couple of hours with the cats. 😛
Based on other reviews, here’re some tips on how to have an awesome time at Neko no Niwa:
1. When to go: Cats are nocturnal animals, and they spend the better part of the day sleeping. If you want to interact with them and make the most of your visit, go early in the morning or at night, when they’re most active and in need of attention. I dropped by the cafe around 10.30am on a Saturday, and a couple of kitties like Brown Monkey, Mr. White and Muffet were already snoozing throughout my visit.
2. How to go: This may sound strange, but you ladies might wanna don a long skirt. The cats love them for some reason, and it makes a great surface for them lie on your lap and cozy up! 😉
3. What to do: Get to know the cats. Both of you are strangers to each other, so they’ll need some time getting to know you.
4. No means no: With customers streaming in and out and fussing over them 24/7, it’s no wonder that they need their alone time too. Some cats like Little Miss Muffet and Baloo prefer to be brushed, while others are lap cats and love nothing more than a gentle snuggle.
5. But before that: Book your slot early to avoid disappointment. Neko no Niwa has only space for 25 customers at any one time, and people who are already in are allowed to stay as long as they pay top-ups [UPDATE 1 May 2014: or as long as the cafe isn’t full in the next hour], so it’s no surprise that walk-ins are sometimes turned away.
With a “cuddle charge” priced at $12, and subsequent $5 per half hour add-on bookings, an afternoon (or evening) at Neko no Niwa does seem a bit pricey at first. But taking in the location and upkeep of 13 cats (plus a smorgasbord of activities and amenities on hand), I’d say it’s pretty reasonable. A look at their Facebook page shows that they’re also actively contributing funds to cat-centered causes.
In conclusion, I can’t wait for my next cat-urdate! 😀
Address: 54A Boat Quay Level 2
Contact: 6536 5319
Monday, Wednesday to Friday: 11am – 10pm Saturday, Sunday and Public Holidays: 10am – 10pm Closed on Tuesday (for grooming)
**Children must be 7 years old and above and supervised by an accompanying adult. Personal pet cats are not allowed.