Cat cafes are popping up all over the place these days — but how do you go about making your kitties-and-coffee venture stand out from rest of the clowder? In the case of The Catcade, which opened in Chicago in 2017, you add a bunch of vintage arcade games to the mix.
The brainchild of Shelly Casey and Christopher Gutierrez, The Catcade came to fruition after they visited other cat cafes around the country and became inspired to debut one in Chicago. Christopher says they always wanted to add a rescue element to their cat cafe and decided to target high-risk kill shelters in both Chicago and southeast Kentucky, with the goal of transporting cats facing a death row situation to the safe haven of The Catcade. As Christopher also has a side hobby rebuilding and restoring retro video game cabinets, they decided to integrate that into the design of the space. Inside The Catcade you’ll find five multi-play stations hosting throwback games like Galaga, Ms. Pac-Man and The Simpsons, video game-themed decor like a rug fashioned after an 8-bit Nintendo joypad controller, plus a few old cabinets repurposed into carpeted cat snoozing stations.
Naturally, the resident felines at The Catcade have taken to claiming the video game rigs in their own finicky fashion. “They treat them like cat trees,” Christopher says. “They climb up, in and around them. Usually, you’ll find them sitting down on the [horizontal] cocktail games because the monitors are warm, especially during the winter.”
The idea of satiating your retro gaming kicks by playing a few rounds of Defender while supported by a team of cats might sound fun and fantastical, but there’s also a serious side to The Catcade that comes from Christopher and Shelly’s decision to help felines at risk of euthanasia. This means the cats they take in often come with medical or personality issues as a result of abuse they’ve suffered in the past. When The Catcade opened with a group of 10 cats, one of them named Bruno took over four months to find his forever home due to his shyness and nervousness. But once Bruno was finally adopted, Chris says, “It’s been amazing to get updates from his adopter on how he’s blossoming and so happy.”
In a more heartbreaking case, a 9-year-old senior feline was discovered by animal care and control wandering the streets in an emaciated condition. He was rescued by The Catcade, but unfortunately “ended up with kidney failure from years of neglect and passed while with us.” Despite the luminous glow from the arcade game screens lighting up The Catcade, this is the darker element involved in cat rescue and rehabilitation. But as Christopher says, it’s always important to keep the faith: “We know we can’t do anything to change a cat’s history, but we can give them the best chance at a better future.” For more information, visit thecatcade.org.
Thumbnail: Photography by: ©Mandy Dempsey Photography
Phillip Mlynar spends his days writing about cats, hip-hop and food, often while being pestered by his rescue, a mackerel tabby named Mimosa. His work appears in Vice, Pitchfork, Red Bull, Bandcamp, VinePair and Catster. He’s won various awards at the Cat Writers’ Association Communication Contests, some of which are proudly on display at his local dive bar in New York City.