|"Chilling on the wheel"|
“They are just pimping out cats for money”...
For any business whose primary commercial selling point is based around a living creature – especially one as lauded as the domestic pussy-cat, cynicism is bound to rear its ugly head in its direction. And for the anonymous woman stood beside me, peering into the passing window of Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium in Shoreditch, East London, the thoughtless refrain of the above statement thrown from her lips is - at least in a narrow mind-set, justifiable; the building contains cats, the building makes money.
But instinct is a powerful leveller against reactionary thinking. And as a man who carries zero interest in rash statements based on ignorance - and loves cats, I was open minded. So as one stranger stumbled into the vague distance of her delusion, myself – along with my partner and two close friends of similar animal loving disposition, ventured into the pre-booked confines of Lady Dinah's; to decide for ourselves whether the cats were pulling the cart, or the cart - as expected, was in fact, pulling the cats...
Initially, we enter into a comfortable reception area, where two smartly dressed chefs busy themselves in the manner happy hired guns often do. The energy is positive and calm. On the hour, we are led to a smaller room. It is here where merchandise is sold, bookings are confirmed, and a £5 per-person visiting charge is required – in order to fund care for the cats. As my conscious mind wonders if the judgemental lady outside had a point – even though my instinct senses otherwise, I am relieved as - before allowing us to enter the final door, the assistant explains each fine detail of catering to the whims of their resident felines; followed by asking us to wash our hands in the rooms basin.
After exchanging cash and consideration, we make our way into the café. The initial noticeable elements to the two floor coffee house are how cozy, clean, and quiet it is. While predisposed to the social combination of music and coffee, this silence; designed to service an animal which seem to have a universal disdain of any noise beyond tins opening, is refreshing. As the small volume of visitors mix with the moggies; the numbers are intentionally left low - I assume to retain as little stress to the animals as possible, patrons mix with the placid cats as toys, books and sofa chairs remain freely available. It is a peaceful environment, but also a social one. It feels like the basement living room of a good friend who loves cats - I guess in many ways, it is.
Food is a delicious mixture of reasonably priced coffees, teas, cakes and sandwiches. I merged a hot latte with red velvet cake, but the choice is varied. As for the cats? There are eleven in total - all rescues, and carry an air of a cool, contented clan. Overseen by queen bee, Mue; the naturally protective mother of seven of the residents, each has their own designated spots of rest, playful ways of being, and differing personality traits; my favourite being Wookie – the tubby, lovely and lazy tabby who happily kept guard outside, during my bathroom break.
Leaving an hour or so later - born from time over choice, I felt secure and sated in knowing the cats are firmly in charge. Lady Dinah’s is a delightful little café in a bustling art district of East London. And while this barely four-month-old business irons out the finer points of organising a café around the needs of its cats – as opposed to the other way around, it has the potential to secure its place as an eventual portion of English cultural significance; as time and reputation help to expand both its reputation and fanbase. I plan to book again as a regular patron; and try the banoffee pie - wondering if Wookie will wait for me outside the bathroom door again?
The £5 entry charge is a contentious issue to some, and may work against the company in the long run. And discounting this charge for regular visitors would in my view aid business. However there is little to nitpick, and the owners are doing a fine job - often against unfounded accusations of exploitation, to those who have never even visited. If you love cats, cakes, comfortable sofas, or the unique ambiance of a collection of loveable felines, Lady Dinah’s is a place I highly recommend booking a visit. I award it five cupcakes out of five...
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