Imagine sipping a cup of coffee while surrounded by some 30 cats — all napping, purring, and playing around you. It’s a cat-lover’s dream, and now it’s a reality in Bellingham. Next time you need your cat fix, look no further than Neko Cat Cafe.
Whatcom County’s first cat cafe, Neko (whose name means “cat” in Japanese) is a Japanese-inspired cafe, bar, and cat sanctuary in downtown Bellingham. Founded in Seattle by owners Caitlin and Cory, Neko opened its second location in Bellingham in February 2020. After closing during Washington’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in the spring, Neko reopened during Phase 2 and is ready to welcome visitors once again.
Neko owners Caitlin and Cory met in Bellingham while working at Boundary Bay Brewery. After spending 2 years living in Japan, they fell in love with the cat cafe culture there and decided to open their own business back in Washington. Caitlin and Cory opened their Capitol Hill location, Neko Seattle, in 2017. Their mission: to provide a sanctuary for both cats and people, while helping cats find their “forever homes” through adoption.
We recently visited Neko Bellingham for our first cat therapy session. Check-in was easy with a reservation and we soon found ourselves in cat heaven. We secured seats by the window, where resident cat Simon was waiting patiently for pets. When a friendly employee (known at Neko as a pawtender) brought over a handful of treats, we were suddenly surrounded by kitties seeking their midday snack. We were asked not to pick up any cats, but it’s ok if one decides to take a nap in your lap.
The spacious cat room allows groups and cats to spread out, each occupying a cozy corner or (in the cats’ case) a high perch. All ages are allowed inside, making a visit to Neko a fun family activity. Neko recently expanded their seating with a “catio” — sidewalk seating complete with comfortable adirondack chairs and a view of the cats through the windows. You can sit out on the catio and enjoy a drink without reservations. But chances are, you’ll want to enter the cat room for the full experience.
Meet The Cats
Neko Bellingham is home to 25-30 cats at any given time. You can learn about Neko’s cats on the website, where each cat’s profile includes a photo and detailed information. Simon, for example, “is an extroverted, curious, affectionate purr-machine who will steal your heart the moment you meet him!” Simon is a resident cat (not adoptable), but you’ll find plenty of adoptable cats here, too.
At Neko Bellingham, all of the adoptable cats come from Whatcom Humane Society. If you fall in love with one of Neko’s adoptable cats, you can inquire about the adoption process which typically takes 2-4 weeks.
Cafe and Bar Offerings
Neko Bellingham offers coffee, tea, fizzy drinks, juices, and snacks. You’ll also find beer, cider, and hard seltzer on the menu. Many menu items are cat-themed and imported from Japan, such as Lucky Cat Japanese Soda and Wednesday Cat Japanese Wheat Beer. Check out “Happy Meowr” Monday-Thursday from 3pm to 5pm on the catio and in the cat room. Happy Meowr includes drink specials on hard seltzers, ciders, and beer.
Because seating at the cat cafe is limited, it’s best to book an advance reservation. Walk-ups are available on a first come, first served basis. Reservations are $11 per person for a 1-hour session (currently reduced to 45 minutes during the Covid-19 pandemic). You can also book a longer work/study session for 3 hours (reduced to 2 hours and 45 minutes during Covid-19). Work/study rates range from $20 to $25 per session.
Visiting During Covid-19
Sessions are shortened during Washington State’s Safe Start Phased Plan to allow for extra cleaning between guests. While Neko already had an infection control plan in place (due to the nature of working with animals) prior to the pandemic, they’ve implemented new measures including additional sanitization, touchless checkout, and reconfigured seating at the cafe. We felt safe visiting Neko Bellingham during Phase 2. As an added bonus, fewer people in the cafe means more cats per person! Read more about Neko’s Covid-19 plan on their website.
Visit Neko on Instagram for an endless stream of cute cat photos and the latest news from Bellingham’s cat cafe.