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With a ‘catarium’ and sheltered friends looking for homes, Neko Cat Cafe coming to the kitty-corner of Belmont and Pine

It’s not every project on Capitol Hill that comes with approval from the health department specifying rules for the “catarium” —

At all times, the designated cat support employee must always remain in the catrium and cat support function areas. This includes when the cat support employee starts and ends his or her shift. The only exception would be to use the restroom located in the café area. The cat support employee is not allowed in the office, scullery area, and the espresso bar. Please provide a locker or equivalent for your cat support employee to accommodate this requirement.

After more than a year of buzz, Neko Cat Cafe has found a Capitol Hill home at Belmont and Pine below the Annapolis Apartments. Here is the announcement from owner Caitlin Unsell:

We came, we hunted, we pounced. NEKO is officially coming to Capitol Hill this summer! That’s right people, it’s time to squad up and get your cat on. We’ve planted our paws on the corner of Pine and Belmont in the heart of Capitol Hill.

Construction will be underway shortly as we create the ultimate kitty paradise for cats and cat lovers. Having visions of champagne and kittens yet? You should be. We will have local beer, wine, champagne and espresso for ya’ll to sip on while you hang out with the best animal on the planet. Feeling like a little nibble? We’ve got you covered with Japanese-inspired sweets and snacks.

The project is still going through permitting with designs from Clinkson Architects calling for a 211-square-foot cafe and a 209-square-foot catrium complete with CAT TOWER (“not yet designed”).

“It was a hard sell to a lot of the traditional landlords,” Unsell tells CHS. But the catrepreneur found a match with low income housing provider Bellwether. She said the nonprofit affordable housing provider was excited about her project from the start. “Bellwether has just been amazing,” Unsell said. That was a big relief after the start of her search looked like she might never be able to find a space on the ultra-competitive, ultra-expensive Hill.

Her work with King County Health has also gone surprisingly issue-free. The department has put in expected restrictions about keeping cafe and catrium employees separate and requirements like push doors or curtains to keep the food and drink area separate from the kitties but Unsell said she hasn’t had to cut any cat cafe features to get Neko’s plans on track.

What will come next will be some very busy months Unsell and Neko. She’s also starting the hiring process, looking for “people with experience with coffee and bartending — but, of course, also people who love cats.” We’re not sure it’s legal for a cat to participate in the hiring process but don’t be surprised to be interrogated by a feline if you apply.

The participating felines will come from a partner shelter that is lined up to be part of the cafe. They will be selected for sociability and will also have easy access to a cats-only area when they decide their shift is over.

Neko, to be clear, might be a nice place to hang out for cat lovers but it is being designed for the cats, Unsell said.

“That’s our number one goal: to get these cats a home.”

Neko Cat Cafe is planned to open this summer at 1531 Belmont. You can learn more at

CORRECTION: We incorrectly described the area where the cats will be encountered as the “catrium.” The area is actually called the “catarium.” CHS regrets the error.


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3 years ago