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Wearing matching cat earrings and diamond necklace, a “Pardon my Meow-stache” T-shirt and even a bright yellow clip-on kitty tail, Ellie Erling, 7, of Minneapolis was ready for her visit to the Twin Cities area’s first and only cat cafe, the Cafe Meow. Before going, though, she had to do a few chores.

“She worked really hard and cleaned the bathrooms and earned her trip,” said mom Monica Erling, 43. “The idea of hanging out with a bunch of cats was really strong.”

The Cafe Meow, which opened in February in the Lowry Hill East neighborhood, is half coffee shop, half cat lounge, separated by a large glass window. Visitors are welcome to buy coffee, play with the cats, or do both.

If you are a cat lover like Ellie, the cafe is the purr-fect paradise. But it’s also a good option for the cat-cautious who might need a test trial before considering adoption. For Katie Mills, 16, of Lakeville it was a way to play with cats without inconveniencing her family. “My dad and brother are allergic,” she said, “but I love cats.” She used to frequent pet stores but said she prefers the cafe because she can interact more with the cats.

Visitors are required to sanitize their hands before entering the lounge through a set of two doors that keep curious cats from venturing out to explore. The lounge’s capacity is 15 cats, but spotting them all is like a game of I Spy. There are cats hiding in cubbyholes, some lounging on built-in wall mounts and others hanging overhead in scratching-post towers. Patrons are welcome to bring food and drinks from the cafe (all cups have lids) into the lounge area with one rule: not to share with the cats.

The workers at the cafe are also kitty-­literate — being a cat lover is basically a job requirement. Asking future employees their favorite breed has become a staple interview question, said co-founder Danielle Rasmussen.

Workers move between the cafe and the lounge area — washing or sanitizing their hands each time — to help monitor not only the visitors but the cats.

The staff is helpful in introducing visitors to their cat-panions. Because the animals are like pets away from home for the staff, they get to know each cat’s behavior, from when they are playful to when it’s best to leave them alone.

Ellie let an elderly tabby named Ethel lick the condensation off her pink Italian soda cup as she petted behind the cat’s ears. Katie spent some time playing with a kitten named Moose, dangling a furry mouse for the cat, whose collar warned “play only, don’t pet.”

Before opening their own shop, Rasmussen and co-founder Jessica Burge volunteered at Twin Cities rescue efforts, Rasmussen at Feline Rescue Inc. and Burge at Caring for Cats. A big motivation for the shop was to help more cats get adopted, Rasmussen said.

The Cafe Meow houses cats up for adoption from No Kitten Left Behind-MN of St. Paul and Ruff Start Rescue of Princeton, Minn. Visitors who want to adopt are referred to the outside organizations, which receive the adoption proceeds. Since opening in February, the cafe has helped with three dozen adoptions.

“There are lots of cats in need of homes,” Rasmussen said. “We’re really just the middleman.”

The lounge area also includes informational posters on proper petting practices to help establish a friendly relationship. It is best to extend your arm, palm open, and let the cat come to you. Also, if a cat’s tail is wagging that isn’t necessarily a good thing, Rasmussen said. Behind the ears is typically a safe-pet zone, and the tummy is generally off-limits.

“They will often go to the person who does not want the cat,” she said. “They definitely have a sixth sense.”

The coffee’s cat-themed, too. The specialty drinks include a Sassy Cat, mocha with cayenne pepper, and Siamese, breve with hazelnut and cinnamon. All drinks come free of hairballs.

The Cafe Meow also offers events, such as yoga with cats, cat trivia, painting your cat on canvas and “kitties and kiddies.” The cafe also recently launched a Summpurr Feline Fest, with all donations benefiting local rescue groups.

For Ellie, the experience was a great way to spend the afternoon — even if it meant some chores first.

“I’m almost certain we’ll be back,” Erling said.

The Cafe Meow
What: Visitors can grab coffee and play with cats up for adoption. It also offers cat yoga, cat painting and kid-friendly events.
Where: 2323 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
When: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sun.
More info: $10 fee to spend time with the cats. 612-212-8471 or thecafemeow.com