NEW YORK - Along the Bowery in Manhattan, people waited in a line that would challenge any fancy art gallery opening or exclusive New York City club.
But what brought these people here on a cool sunny Thursday afternoon wasn't art or exclusivity, it was cats.
Well, cats and coffee.
Cat Café opened its doors Thursday, for cat lovers and the cat-curious to enjoy complimentary "cat'achino" cappuccinos, talk cat health and learn about cat adoption with 16 cuddly cats. Pet food brand Purina ONE is hosting the café as a pop-up shop, lasting only through Sunday, but organizers hope the event encourages cat health awareness and adoption.
"The goal of what we're doing here is try to start a conversation about cat health. What better place to do that then over a cup of coffee with some friends in a café? We thought if people are going to be talking about cat health, you should be among your subjects and have cats all around you," said Niky Roberts with Purina ONE.
"It's a great thing because dogs are very publicly social -- you can take your dog out and go for a walk, talk to people at the dog park -- but that's not a luxury most cat owners have, so this is a place you can talk with likeminded people about cat health and be among cats."
As cat people sipped cappuccinos with cat faces drawn in the foam and flicked furry, feathered balls attached to sticks by string at feline guests, Roberts said the café featured a "Cat Chat" speaker series with discussions led by a cat behaviorist, a veterinarian and other cat experts.
Nearby, Valerie the cat had been camped out on Casey Schimon for about an hour, when someone came over to say Valerie had been adopted.
"I'm so excited for her, because she is seriously the most precious thing, and somebody is going to be very happy," an only slightly sad looking Schimon said.
Purina ONE partnered with North Shore Animal League, a large, no-kill animal rescue and adoption organization based in Long Island, New York, to bring 16 specially chosen cats from around the country to hang out at the café.
"So far I think we've had about four cats adopted, but on Saturday we're having an event here where we'll have our mobile unit that will have additional cats available for adoption, and we're always encouraging people to come over to the shelter in Long Island where we have over a hundred adoptable cats," said Christina Travalja, shelter director for North Shore Animal League America.
Cat coffee houses started in Asia, have gained popularity in Europe, and there are talks of opening a few in such places as California, Oregon and Canada. Bu for now, organizers say the Cat Café in New York is the first feline coffee spot in North America.
"I just want to look at cats. I really like them. I go to school here, so I'm far from my cats. I just wanted to get my fill," said Melissa Torres, who waited nearly two hours to get in the café, "You hear about them in Japan, and I always thought I would have to go to Japan to go to a cat café.
For those who weren't in New York or couldn't handle the line, scenes from inside the cat café were Livestreamed with more than 5,000 people watching around the world. The hashtag #CatCafe was used to spark conversations about the event and cat health on social media.
By mid-day there had been more than 3,000 mentions of Cat Café on Twitter, about 74 per hour, and 178 "news mentions" of Cat Café. At least 30 videos had been posted with Cat Café in the title.
For others, social media merely spread the word and would never make up for seeing the felines up close.
"I'm just really excited about the cat café -- hopefully I'll be able to pet some cats!" said Stephanie Leoutsakos, who had been standing in line for a half hour and still hadn't made it around the block.
John Tolas was waiting in line next to her and said, "I heard it on Facebook, I told her, she loves cats, so now we're here."