In this feature, we focus a critical eye on a unique new business concept and ask a simple question: Does Portland really need this?

What is it?

A hybrid cat shelter and cafe (the first, and so far only, one of its kind in Portland), Purrington's nearly closed for good at the end of 2018 after three years on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., until new owners Garrett Simpson and Helen Harris swooped in to buy the business from its founders. After shuttering for a remodel, the cafe is open again, with a slightly revamped look but the same basic premise: You can meet, pet and play with adoptable shelter cats while getting a good buzz on.

(Abby Gordon)
(Abby Gordon)

The environment

The cafe—a small but surprisingly airy space with vaulted ceilings—is separated from the designated cat room by a wall, but the wood-framed windows give you a peek at the cats in action. You can take your food and drink with you to meet the cats, but wait staff can't serve you there.

The cats' space at the new Purrington's is smaller than before, allowing for more tables in the lounge area, and the boundaries between the cafe and the shelter are more porous. Sets of cubbies where cats can nap quietly are mounted high on the wall, with hexagonal cells reminiscent of beehives.

Cats also have their pick of scratchers, scattered catnip toys, and a crinkle tunnel. Customers who want to get interactive can grab a fishpole toy or ask for a laser pointer. There's also a private back room the cats can access through two kitty doors in the wall in case they get overwhelmed or need the litter box.

The menu

Purrington's serves tea and coffee as well as beer and a small list of reasonably priced wines—plus mimosas, of course. The food menu is light cafe fare: pastries, granola, salads and sandwiches. The beet sandwich—pickled golden beets with fresh dill and horseradish aioli—is tastier and more filling than you'd expect, given that no visitor to the cat cafe judges the place by its food.

(Abby Gordon)
(Abby Gordon)

The cats

Purrington's normally charges $12 for a one-hour session in the cat room but, on the morning of our visit, halved the price due to a low stock of cats, for which staff profusely apologized. The roster had dropped from the typical 10 or 12 cats to only eight, two of which refused to come out of the private shelter area, separated from the public space by a wall with two cat-sized portals.

Most of the cats that did come out to socialize were more interested in naps than meeting new people—and, well, same, to be honest. By the end of our hour, though, my party had been thoroughly charmed by a burly black cat named Crash, who worked the room like he was running for office, and an adolescent kitten that tore around the space at breakneck speed.

If you're seriously looking to adopt, binders contain each cat's history and adoption info. The website has a gallery of adoptable cats as well, but the Cat Adoption Team's site keeps the bios.

Pros

The idea of a cat cafe excited me when Purrington's first opened, but the setup sounded so rigid and off-putting I never went. Reservations were required, and customers weren't allowed to take food or drinks into the area with the cats. It just didn't seem worth the hassle. But this new, more relaxed setup made it so I didn't have to think much about logistics. I could just enjoy my coffee, my friends and the cats.

(Abby Gordon)
(Abby Gordon)

Cons

Still, while the new setup is relatively easy to navigate, there are still formalities that make the experience feel less casual than just going to a bar that happens to have cats crawling around. Reservations are no longer required, but they are recommended, and the cafe still limits the time people can spend with the cats. When our hour was up, a staff member politely ushered us out. It's best for the animals to place some limits on human interaction, but it does raise the question of whether spending $12 to maybe get some one-on-one feline time is worth it.

Do we really need this?

It's more accurate to describe Purrington's as a shelter with a cafe attached than a true cat cafe. In Japan, the original cat cafes were created to provide catless renters temporary access to furry friends that lived onsite. Purrington's model is almost the inverse—it's a place where homeless cats have the chance to meet people who could give them a permanent home.

But cats in transition have different needs than those that happen to live in spots that attract lots of human visitors, so it makes sense for Purrington's to shape its policies and setup around their sensitivities. If you think of it not as a cafe where cats happen to be present but as a cat shelter that happens to serve mimosas, it hits the mark pretty damn well.

GO: Purrington's Cat Lounge, 3529 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., 503-334-3570, purringtonscatcafe.com. 8 am-8 pm Tuesday-Sunday. Cat lounge opens at 10 am.