Portland’s Pussycat Paradise

An afternoon at Portland’s Purringtons Cat Lounge, the Northwest’s first cat cafe

From his perch, Butch looks out on Martin Luther King Blvd. in PortlandPhotos by Alex V. Cipolle

Cats are winning. As I write this, my cat, Elsie, slinks around my legs, looking up at me, knowingly. Cats have always known they were winners; it just took society, with a helpful boop from the internet, some time to catch up.

Dogs, however, in all their earnest, loyal, slopping glory, have long ruled the hearts of the majority, from “man’s best friend” to Old Yeller. For millennia, dogs have stood by as our companions, our families, our heroes.

Society has not been so kind to their feline counterparts. Google “cat movies” and find campy old horror films like Cat People (1952), about women who turn into cats when aroused.

Dog lovers are called just that. A cat lover, somewhere along the way, was collectively presumed to be a witch or an aging spinster, and deemed “Crazy Cat Lady.”

But then the internet came, social media followed, and everything changed. Viral videos made stars out of furry domestic recluses.

The first time it hit me that cats are winning, indeed, was on a 2012 visit to my hometown of Minneapolis, where I attended the first-ever Internet Cat Video Festival on the grounds of the Walker Art Center. More than 10,000 cat lovers descended onto the art center’s grassy knolls to watch the top viral cat videos of the year.

Here, I witnessed grown men wearing cat ears walking cats on leashes. I heard an audience full of adults hiss at anyone who dared block the huge screen. I watched an acceptance speech, free of irony, for best viral cat video.

It is in this heady, whiskery age, in an artsy, niche-loving city like Portland, that Purringtons Cat Lounge — the first cat café in the Pacific Northwest and second in the nation — could come to be.

[Kristen Sergio with Dominique above]

Sitting in the lounge, owners Kristen and Sergio Castillo tell me there was a line around the block when they opened Purringtons in January.

Cats are huge right now, Kristen says. The idea is simple: Give people who are looking to adopt, or who can’t have pets or just want to drink a beer and get cozy, a place to hang out with cats.

Currently joining the Castillos in the lounge are 11 cats (standard range is eight to 10), including “Butch,” a robust gray and white gentleman who snoozes on a carpeted perch overlooking the street, occasionally rumbling with a low purr or half-opening a jade eye. Also present is “Curly Sue,” a comely tuxedo cat, who plays what Kristen calls “carpet feather,” which amounts to Kristen wiggling a feather tied to a stick under a rug while Curly Sue proceeds to go bananas.

Purringtons inhabits a rectangular space split lengthwise by a glass partition, with a café on one side, lounge on the other. The café serves coffee, beer, wine, “Meowmosas” and small dishes, but don’t fret about tufts of fluff floating onto your tapas; one of the requirements, among many, of opening a kitty-cat joint is creating reverse pressure in the lounge, so when the door opens, air gets sucked back into the room.

The lounge side looks like pussycat paradise. All sorts of tunnels, tubes and other contraptions scatter the floor with the little beasts sauntering and pouncing about.

Humans may visit with the cats in one-hour slots, at eight bucks a pop, and reservations are recommended. A maximum of 15 people are allowed in the lounge at once.

Kristen got the idea for Purringtons after watching internet videos of a cat café in Paris. Sergio points out that cat cafés originally began in Japan — specifically Tokyo, where it’s “not affordable to have pets” because of sky-high rents and minimal square footage.

Sergio says he wanted the lounge to feel like a living room, comfortable for cats and people alike. As someone who has grown up with cats, I’ve never witnessed so many getting along in one space, playing with each other and their human subjects, and their felted tacos and mice, in harmony.

If a feline does feel anxious, it can escape to a private room through a cat door where beds and food await.

A luxe doublewide chaise longue rests along a wall of windows; it’s not uncommon to find one puffed-up cat bogarting it for herself. A couple sips pints of beer and watches, bemused. A woman dangles a feather in front of a honeycomb-style shelf and coos as little whiskered heads peek out.

Curly Sue — who has since been adopted — continues to prowl about, flirting with any new suitor with a plume. Butch still sleeps, now in the orange glow of the sunset.

Yes, I’d say cats are winning.

For more info, visit purringtonscatlounge.com.