I was running late as I walked into my 4 p.m. appointment at KitTea Cafe on Gough Street. Earlier that week, I had signed up for the discounted ($15) “Happy Meowr” because I’m tight on cash and love a good pun.
If you’re unfamiliar, KitTea Cat Cafe is a place in Hayes Valley where you can sip tea, snack on some food, and play with cats. The business comprises three distinct areas: a reception desk and retail space in the front, a cafe and (of course) the glass-encased feline-human play area for which the business is known so well. The price of admission gets you a free bottomless cup of tea and some serious face time with a group of furry friends.
I entered the glassed-in area, which looks like one of those modular environments at IKEA, and received an orientation from a girl named Ryan. When I asked her why she started working at the cafe, she replied, “I really enjoy working with cats. It’s not more complicated than that.”
Her economy of language was remarkable and in another context, it could have been taken as terse. But not here – I was in the land of the Cat People, and unlike the objects of their fawning, the employees and patrons of the Kit Tea Cafe are refreshingly direct.
Ultimately, it was I who proved immune to verbal directives.
Along with the tea and waffles ― I went with the complimentary Hojicha Sun and an heirloom tomato and goat cheese waffle, $10.95 ― a big part of the Kit Tea Cafe experience is feeding the cats this weird snack, best described as vacuum-sealed fish jerky that comes out of the bag wet. I had just sat down with my aforementioned human meal and simultaneously tore open the packet of cat food.
Bad call. I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of the orientation: Don’t feed the cats when you have tea or your own food in front of you.
It was chaos. At least eight cats swarmed me and my little setup, upending the whole shebang. Everything spilled everywhere, and the otherwise tranquil environment was interrupted by my bumbling, bearded self, apologizing profusely to the entire group (which consisted of two couples, two Taiwanese girls in their 20s, and three small children). I’ll remind you that this entire ordeal was on display to the folks sitting in the cafe on the other side of the glass.
This was about five minutes into the hour and I had already made quite the impression. However, Ryan and company were exceedingly understanding as they cleaned up the mess, which had made me extremely anxious. To combat this feeling, I popped over to the other side of the room, and broke out the kitty-crack once more.
The cats were pumped. In fact, so pumped that they kind of bit and scratched me while they clambered up my clothing to get their fix. Ironically, the calming nature of spending time with animals is one of the big draws to these sorts of places.
As a large black cat named Steve batted fish from my trembling hand, I wondered if I was enjoying myself.
The rest of my time elapsed without incident. When the hour was up, we were ushered out of the area to put our shoes back on. It felt a lot like gathering your stuff after a yoga class. (And KitTea Cat Cafe in fact offers yoga on Wednesday nights.)
Chatting with Courtney the owner, a smiley woman with bright eyes, I watched through the large pane of glass as the next group enter the space. The voyeuristic nature of KitTea Cat Cafe struck me as a couple took a seat in the same place where my fish mishap had occurred.
These people, however, were pros. The dude sat down (sans tea) and made it rain with the 10packs of fish jerky he’d bought upon entry. No kids, no skinny bearded weirdo spilling shit, just two old hacks squeezing every bit of nectar out of their time at the KitTea Cafe. At that moment I realized, for the right crowd, this place is magical.
Me, I’m more of a dog person.
KitTea Cafe, 98 Gough St., 415-658-7888 or kitteasf.com