The Kitten Lounge in Georgetown looks like the set of a Taylor Swift music video: Faux-fur rugs and pastel throw pillows abound. A pink neon sign reads MEOW YOU DOIN’? Behind the counter, totes for sale proclaim RELATIONSHIP STATUS: CATS. On the floor, on a regular Thursday afternoon, about ten people are lolling, shoes off, petting kittens or playing with kittens or generally luxuriating in the presence of so much kitten.
After a time, a woman stands and puts her expensive-looking booties and shearling jacket back on. She turns to an employee: “Is there a Lululemon around here?” If it weren’t for the hair clinging to her outfit, you’d never know she’d paid $20 to spend the last 30 minutes with homeless cats.
The lounge, in a below-ground space on M Street, is the second feline-oriented local business started by Kanchan Singh, who quit her consulting job in 2015 to open nearby Crumbs & Whiskers, the first cat cafe in the Washington area. Since then, such cafes have been multiplying like, well, kittens in spring. Singh’s rivals now include Patriot Pawsabilities in Fairfax, Meows Corner in Sterling, and the forthcoming Mount Purrnon in Alexandria—which will be Colonial-themed and, unlike its competitors, will serve beer and wine.
For the uninitiated, the concept is pretty simple: Pay a fee, play with cats, buy some snacks, repeat. The setup benefits the animals—most of which are looking for homes—because it exposes them to potential adopters and helps socialize them. As Singh points out, it benefits humans, too—especially those who work too many hours to have pets, don’t live in pet-friendly buildings, or simply feel overwhelmed by the current, decidedly uncuddly state of our city. “The rising stress levels, because of the political environment, do contribute,” she says. “You’re kind of like, Oh, my gosh—I can’t handle real life right now.”
Indeed, an ample dose of escape is involved in playing with Singh’s adoptable cats, and the roster of people seeking relief from modern Washington includes staff as well as patrons. Consider the woman who takes care of me on my first visit. Elizabeth Ryba spent years working in politics—including operating battleground-state phones for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Exhausted, she quit campaigns and now manages the Kitten Lounge. “I needed something that gives me a purpose,” says Ryba, who wears glasses and a sweatshirt emblazoned with meow. “When my stress increases, I can pick up a cat instead of going on a Twitter rampage.”
Same goes for Kitten Lounge regulars Abdulaziz Al-Malki and Fatima Al-Baqali. The couple, both physicians, first visited in June and have returned at least five times. “You’re surrounded by all these tiny kittens, and they’re playing and jumping all around you. You forget everything else,” says Al-Malki.
Given her cafes’ Georgetown location, Singh says a fair number of tourists and college students frequent them, too. But even among the kittens and their cuddlers, life’s unpleasantness has a way of intruding. Singh points to a Valentine’s Day special in which customers would pay to write their ex’s name on the floor of a litter box. (You can guess why.) But thanks to the post-2016 political climate, many are choosing to write another name, says Singh: the President’s.
The annual Valentine’s desecration isn’t the only special event. Both Crumbs & Whiskers and the Kitten Lounge host trivia nights and cat yoga. They’ve also become destinations for bachelorette parties—cat ears encouraged, strippers not so much. On a typical day, rates start at $15 for 15 minutes and escalate to $35 for 70. Still, Singh says the main mission is to find homes for cats. Since it opened in March, about 200 kittens have been adopted from the Kitten Lounge. I ask a volunteer if there’s a limit to how many you can adopt at once. She gives me a wary look: “I guess not.” And yes, I am thinking of the scene in Bridesmaids in which Megan (Melissa McCarthy) takes home nine puppies.
By the time I’m ready to leave, a line has formed on the sidewalk. A volunteer reminds the group inside that their window is coming to a close. “What? Why does it go by so fast?” sighs a woman on the floor. The team snaps a Polaroid of me before I go. As I wait for my Uber, I look down at the image: me with a stupid grin, hanging out with five cats and absolutely loving it.
This article appears in the January 2020 issue of Washingtonian.