For the record, Pounce Cat Café is not technically a café. The business holds an "entertainment" license. That's what a very friendly and well-informed employee that I encountered during both of my visits to Pounce told me. Needless to say, it wasn't the last of my questions. A trendy concept such as this requires countless explanations to noobs like myself. Fortunately finding employees willing to answer questions is easy — just look for the people wearing cat ear headbands. Here's what I learned.
The overall concept of Pounce is not to offer Charlestonians small bites, but to place adoptable cats into a fun atmosphere in the hopes that a patron will fall in love and bring home a new member of the family. In that regard, the service that Pounce is providing is nothing short of admirable. To reach their goal, the café's owners Ashley Brooks and Annaliese Hughes have partnered exclusively with the Charleston Animal Society to bring adoptable felines into the public eye of downtown Charleston, more specifically into a high foot traffic area of both college students and tourists.
The room up front that faces the street is the designated "cat room" designed, presumably, to catch onlookers from Meeting Street interested in their concept. The door opens up into a small space with a front counter and a wooden gate separating the animals from the entryway. And to lure clients in there's a sandwich board outside inviting passersby to "Come relax and pet some pussy." So that's what I did. However, my inquiry in a paid visit to Pounce was met by the cat-eared ladies at the front desk with a sympathetic, "No, sorry, you need a reservation." Now, I wouldn't expect to walk into a play without a ticket, but when there's a sandwich board outside inviting passersby to "pet some pussy" my disappointment at being told to make a reservation can only be likened to blue balls.
And therein lies a confusing problem with Pounce. Not only does Pounce require a reservation, they operate more like Theater 99, Woolfe Street Playhouse, or even Threshold Repertory Theater in that they serve a minimal amount of food and drink so they're not classified as a "bar" or "café." So few in fact, that I didn't see any pastries available on either visit nor was I offered any for purchase by the bartender. Then again, I would go so far as to say the term bartender might be grasping as the only cocktail on the menu is a "Meow-Mosa." As for food, when they haven't run out for the day, which the owners did concede happens on occasion, Pounce offers pastries from WildFlour — hungry cat lovers take note.
All that said, once I was able to re-conceptualize what Pounce is in my head, it became more charming. To fully enjoy Charleston's only cat cafe, here are some words of advice:
No. 1) As I said, you will need a reservation. Reservations are made for a specific day and hour so as to not overwhelm the cats with too many people visiting at once.
When I followed the rules and returned several days later at the requisite time (as this was their only availability), I was ushered through the cat room to the bar at the rear which is less of a bar and more of a waiting room that has beer and wine.
The main way that the cat café makes its money is presumably in ticket sales. Each ticket will cost you $15 but includes a glass of house wine or a can of beer including Westbrook White Thai, COAST HopArt, and more. For comparison, there are several other cat cafés peppered across the country and Pounce seems to have the steepest entry fee. For some perspective, Meow Parlor in New York City's Lower East Side charges $8 an hour, Cat Town Café in Oakland, Calif. charges $10 an hour, and Purrington's Cat Lounge in Portland, Ore. charges $8. None of the above include a beverage upon purchase but for $5 less I think that I can forego the Meow-Mosa.
No. 2) Keep in mind, this type of place was designed for bleeding heart animal lovers like me who can't walk by a window filled with adorable creatures without adopting one (or two) — me being one of them. Clearly, the model is working as Pounce has adopted a whopping 72-plus cats since their opening in the middle of December. In fact, I'm told Pounce has adopted so many animals they're worried they might not have enough of a supply of cats to meet the demand of adoptions.
That said, I can't help but wonder how sustainable the business of a cat café can be. Is Pounce's success even defined by money or is it purely altruistic? I wish that these were questions I could answer, but like the cats in the little storefront on Meeting Street, I'm left scratching my head.
However, my hope for Pounce is that it's able to find a middle ground where it can both make enough money to sustain itself and also provide a necessary counterpart to the cat adoption. I think that Brooks and Hughes are in this business for all the right reasons. It's clearly a passion project for both of them that originated from a humble Kickstarter. The concept that they've appropriated is trendy which may prove to be the kiss of death once the cat café bubble bursts in a few years. Unfortunately, the cold, hard business world is interested in one thing: Can this business continue to make money for years to come? My heart is with the cats, and with any luck Pounce will land on its feet.