Peek Inside Sip & Purr, Milwaukee’s First Cat Cafe
BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCER
If your plugged-in, constantly on-the-go lifestyle has you on the fritz, or you’re cuddle-deprived because of your rental rules, fur-lergic partner or nomadic nature, Milwaukee’s first cat cafe, Sip & Purr, can fill that kitty hole in your soul.
Nestled by Black Cat Alley on Milwaukee’s East Side (2021 E. Ivanhoe Place), the cafe lets you rent time to hang out with cats, while sipping on Ruby’s Coffee Roasters and munching on vegan cheese from The Herbivorous Butcher in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The nearly 2,000-square-foot storefront has a full-service kitchen where Southwest burritos, hummus wraps and s’mores pies are all made in house. “We make our own vegan cinnamon roll with flavors that change with the seasons,” says founder and owner Katy McHugh.
Here, you can drink wine, beer or ‘cat cocktails’, with quirky names like Old Tom Cat and Meowmosa, while petting one of the 10 to 15 adoptable felines that are on the prowl in the cat lounge. They’re sourced by Lakeland Animal Shelter, which houses its cats in a cage-free environment. “They have a stress-free environment that really lets their personalities come out,” McHugh says.
In a typical shelter environment, many of these cats wouldn’t be adopted. There are fearful felines like Jordan who has a blank history and is petrified to socialize with other cats. “Instead of sending Jordan back to the shelter where we knew he didn’t have much chance of being adopted, we gave him his own cage in the back area. He loved it. We spent a lot of one-on-one time with him and gave him treats,” she says. “We left the door open where he could go and come as he pleased. By the time he was adopted, he was a lap cat.”
The cat cafe also rescues strays from Doha, Qatar, where there aren’t any shelters or humane societies. They’re spayed, neutered, chipped and vaccinated by Evenstar Charitable Organisation before they get the green light to make the 15-hour flight to the United States. “They’re fostered in my house for two weeks,” McHugh says.
Since Sip & Purr opened its doors on June 1, 2018, 174 cats have been adopted. McHugh, who has four rescue cats and two Bernese Mountain Dogs, worked as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines. She was inspired by a big yellow tabby named Gigi who sauntered over and curled up on her lap at a cafe in Amsterdam. “It had been a kind of stressful trip, and petting her released the anxiety. I told my husband, ‘I just want to open a place where people can drink wine and pet cats.'”
“We’ve done cat yoga every Sunday since we’ve opened, and they’ve been sold out since.” Led by a yogini from Yoga Squad Milwaukee, 10 students bend into cat-cow or prayer squat pose, while their yoga mats act as cat magnets. If adoptable cats like Marley or Zana aren’t stretching on your back, they’re either running on their exercise wheel or taking a break from all the attention while using their litter boxes in a private area.
“Anything with cats is more fun,” McHugh says. If you’re a bookworm or a movie buff, Sip & Purr has a monthly book club and a movie night where you can discuss novels like “Maid” by Stephanie Land or view “Weekend at Bernie’s” with other cat connoisseurs.” There’s also a singles mingle. “It was not my idea but it sold out. It’s a pretty good mix of guys and girls,” she says.
Sip & Purr also brought in Kitten Lady Hannah Shaw, a social media celebrity with 875,000 Instagram followers. There are several pop-up puppy and kitten adoption events already scheduled. The cat cafe has also started a Wednesday morning story time with cats geared toward younger kids. “Our cat lounge concierge wants to do a high tea with petit fours and cats,” McHugh says. While there’s a Drag Queen Bingo at The Wise in Madison, Wisconsin, the cat cafe has drag queen Sylvia Nyxx. She comes out to read bingo numbers and offer mini (sometimes cat-themed) prizes for the winners.
“We’ll be working to be represented at Milwaukee Pride’s Block Party and in its Parade,” McHugh says. “Singles, retirees, story time, drag queens. We want to have something for everybody.” All of the money from the events and cat lounge goes to caring for Sip & Purr’s cats. If you want to attend an event, you’ll have to sign up quickly. The cat cafe is busier than a three-legged cat in a dry sandbox. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday thru Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday.