Opening New Orleans’ first cat club involved filing a lot of paperwork and clearing up a lot of confusion about what a cat club actually is.
But opening day at Crescent City Cat Club, 1021 Marigny St., went off without a hitch this month.
“It exceeded my wildest expectations,” said founder Eshyah Selig, who was sporting cat ears, cat-shaped earrings and a tank top with a cat-face print. “Sixty-five people came, and two cats got adopted. We even had a bachelorette party.”
Selig got the idea from a visit to a place called Cat Town in Oakland, California, a few years ago. Like the cat cafes that originated in Taiwan and gained traction in Japan, launching an international trend, Cat Town lets patrons mingle with dozens of felines over coffee.
“I started looking for a place to put this thing, and nobody would rent to me,” said Selig, a Bay Area native, real estate appraiser, certified dog trainer and cat foster parent.
“I think the idea was too far-fetched for people to take seriously,” she said.
But when Selig realized that one of the properties she was fixing up, a double shotgun house in the Marigny neighborhood, was zoned for commercial use, she thought, “Screw all those other people. I’m going to do it here.”
An extensive renovation followed. Selig connected the two sides of the shotgun, built a fenced “catio” for fresh air and added a kitten viewing room.
She installed colorful stained-glass transom windows over the interior doors and hired muralist Zac Maras to paint a scene of cats cavorting across the New Orleans skyline. Two short-term rental units on the property help finance the nonprofit endeavor.
“Our goal is to adopt out as many cats as we can to help with overpopulation and educate people about the correct way to take care of a cat,” said Selig, who started the club with 15 to 20 cats.
While the Health Department nixed a food and beverage component, patrons are welcome to bring their own refreshments. Admission is $7.
The Crescent City Cat Club is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and offers free wi-fi (not to mention time with cats).
“You get to feel like you’re in your own home, playing with a cat,” said volunteer Ashley Brunies. “I’m still learning all their names. Gendry is one of my favorites. Nine is a feisty little thing.”
The cats come from the Jefferson Parish Animal Shelter. When Pet Fest, the SPCA’s adopt-athon, was postponed until Nov. 26, staffers there found themselves with a surplus. So Selig adopted all the cats bound for the fest.
Because they had lived together in a “cat condo” at the Jefferson shelter, the cats are well socialized to each other and friendly toward strangers.
“I was surprised by how chill the cats were,” said Jenn Schwartz, a former animal shelter volunteer who has two cats of her own. “I’d love to come back here and drink coffee, read a book and pet a cat.”
“We wanted to have an experience with some nice cats,” said Sarah Karp, who visited the cat club with her husband and 21-month-old son. “I find them relaxing and calming. They’re just so cute!”
For visitors looking to adopt a cat, the club offers a few advantages. For one thing, its location is convenient for many residents. For another, the cattery offers dossiers on all the cats and a comfortable way to get to know them.
“The main advantage is the environment,” Selig said. “Shelters are not relaxing. Get the cats out (of a kennel), let them play, and you see who the animal is. I think that’s why they’re so friendly. They’re relaxed and enjoying life.”
It costs $65 to adopt a cat, including a cardboard carrier and some food. All the cats are neutered or spayed and are up-to-date on their shots.
“If someone comes and wants a cat, they can walk out with a cat,” Selig said. “And if it doesn’t work out for some reason, we can take the cat back. We want everyone to be happy.”
Selig plans to launch cat yoga classes (a class for humans, with cats visiting) and a senior-to-senior program matching elderly cats with homebound owners. She’s also planning on acquiring at least 15 more cats.
“I think we can handle a few more,” she said. “I am vying to be the cat palace of the South. Cat Town can have the West Coast, but I hope we become a destination for cat people in New Orleans.”