Conway the TOT cat

Photo Credit/Shae-Lynn Chung

A couple of months ago, I wrote a fairly skeptical article about the opening of TOT, the city’s first cat café. It ended up having a very successful late launch in November, but I never ended up going. I figured, if I wanted to experience the cat café at its best, I should wait until the hype dies down and the place isn’t up to its knees in people clamoring to see the cats.

Now that time has come, and I can honestly say that went better than I was expecting. I had previously been concerned with the cats having to be kept in a separate room from the café as per Ontario bylaws, but that turned out to be the best thing about the place.

A decent chunk of the floorspace is enclosed behind some large, clear windows, behind which are a multitude of cat trees and beds, and five fairly young cats. It’s more windows than walls that separate the café from the cat room, and because of that transparency the division doesn’t seem as hard or prominent as I thought it would be.

It’s chillier in there than expected, possibly because of the storefront windows being a part of the room. And just our luck, all five of the cats were sound asleep, curled up in various nooks. One of the rules is to not touch the cats if they’re asleep, but no one was really following that rule since we all came here to interact with them and this was all we were going to get.

Inside the cat room, it mostly feels like everyone is trying to make the most of it. We took pictures. We quietly called the cats’ names, urging them to wake up. We all whispered to each other even though speaking out loud wouldn’t bother the cats. Sometimes one of us would quickly and gently stroke a cat even though they’re asleep and we’re not supposed to do that.

But this got old fast, so my friend and I returned to our seats to laugh miserably at the people who held out in hopes that the cats would wake up, which they didn’t.

I asked my friend what her first impression was of the café in one word, and she said very decisively, “bare-bones.” She asked me what mine was, and I looked around and then said, “alright.”

Keeping in mind that it’s definitely still a fledgling business, it’s a cute setup. The aesthetic is admirable, though struggling to make ends meet, with long wooden tables, high black stools, and cream-colored walls, save for one where the menu is scrawled across a coat of black chalkboard paint. The cat room shares the same color palette in its furnishing for the cats, with a few raggedy cat-paw pillows scattered across the floor for patrons (or cats) to sit on.

My hot chocolate was decent, and cost me less than four dollars. Staring at the cats definitely enhanced my ability to finish it, considering there was an estimated ten-minute wait time to get in the room. Traffic in and out of the café was modest at this time of day, so my friend and I only had to wait five minutes before being debriefed on the rules of the cat room by a polite and enthusiastic staffer and given the go-ahead.

It’s as my friend and I were wrapping up to go that all the cats decided to wake up and snuggle up to people. We left, eyeing the cat room with envy, but we were still smiling, because while it’s the luck of the draw what anyone’s experience is going to be like with the cats at the café, it’s a nice and fun place to hang out just for the sake of it. It’s pleasant, quaint, and if you make the most of it, it’s a good time.

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