By Cameron Crowell /// Arts Editor
I have never been one to celebrate Valentine’s Day. I am not here to lecture anybody about how it is a “Hallmark Holiday” created for greedy reasons. I just never really felt the need to spend a day driven by a well-manicured itinerary to show my significant other I care about them, and I am so grateful to have found someone who agrees with me.
With that being said, we did use the oddly sunny day to go to Portland’s first (and America’s 5th) cat cafe, Purrington’s Cat Lounge. While the bougie fantasy of drinking craft beer or Mate while in a room full of cats may have made me want to puke, it could have also been that we prefaced our 5pm reservation by drinking an entire bottle of five-dollar wine at a nearby park. The truth is, I was excited to roll around with the kitties.
I had in mind that the cafe would be like a 90-year-old cat lady’s apartment turned coffee shop, the store would smell somewhere between French roast and a litter box, and I would be covered in fur the second I sat on any piece of furniture. What we got was a complete 180-degree spin.
We stumbled into the store five minutes late for our reservation. The shop was split in half by a giant glass window separating the cashier’s desk and food preparation area from the “Cat Room,” presumably for health reasons. The result was less of a coffee shop and more of two long hallways: one with the bar, one with the entertainment. Instead of the creepy yet lovable cat lady smell, it was an aroma of fresh paint and new leather furniture. Purrington’s did not just sell coffee, but also an assortment of teas, beers, wines, cheese plates, and even clever knick-knacks like “How to Teach Your Cat About Gun Safety” pamphlets. There was a line of people getting ready for their hour with the felines. We walked up to the hip cashier sporting a wool sweater with Bart Simpson heads stitched all over.
“Usually it is eight dollars for the hour, but since we have a shortage of cats today, we are only charging six,” she told us, as we put on stickers granting us entry. “Make sure to go over the rules before you mingle.”
Inside, it was another world. About 15 people sat on seats that doubled as kitty jungle gyms. Some cats welcomed us to their land; others made it clear we were intruding. The ground rules were simple: Do not feed the cats human food, do not pick up the cats, do not wake up sleeping cats, and do not make loud noises in the lounge. Essentially, this is the cats’ party and they will do what they want. Another woman stood by the entrance to the lounge to enforce the rules and to make sure none of our furry friends escaped. She gave us all backstories on each of the cats, including an unsolved mystery about how Owen, a cat not exactly amused with the room full of people, got into the rafters of the building during the past few nights. While the story was cute and amusing at first, my inebriated brain could not deal with hearing it told to every new person that walked into the room. I quickly realized that this place was a zoo – a zoo not only for the cats, but also for anyone outside of the “Cat Room” who stared in and took pictures of us.
While one large orange cat sat comfortably on a lady’s stomach, another hid below the chair, afraid to move too far. Purrington’s works with the Sherwood Cat Adoption Team, who provide the store with rescued adults (no kittens) with varying attitudes towards people. Normally the lounge has between eight and ten cats; however, due to the cafe’s popularity, recent adoptions had left this room with only five cats as they awaited more rescues.
We got up from our seats and walked toward a cat named Lily. She sat on top of her kitty tower, staring down at most of the non-cats with a glare of disdain. My girlfriend started to pet her, and Lily gradually understood that she was friend, not foe.
In a hazy stupor, I found myself by the window alone with a black and white cat, Owen. We looked each other in the eyes, the clamor of the worker telling the story for the fourth time droned out, and it was just me with Owen’s big blue eyes. It was as if he communicated post-linguistically to me that I was one of them now. I nodded, and he went back to looking out the window at busy Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, plotting his nightly escape from this zoo. I knew he understood the attitude of LC student housing toward his kind, so I only felt slightly guilty about not sneaking him out with me.
Another woman walked in and told the patrons to turn off their laser pointers and vacate the room so the next batch of eagerly awaiting cat enthusiasts could have their turn. I burped audibly. My girlfriend and I walked out, fantasizing about the time when we can have a cat roommate of our own. I guess forties, pizza, and trips to Purrington’s will have to substitute in the meantime.