Cat cafes are nothing new in Tokyo and have existed since at least the turn of the century. We’ve visited a couple of them. The concept has also grown popular in a number of other large East Asian cities. In terms of uniqueness as a business model, it’s possible that cat cafes have become a bit passé. In Tokyo at the moment, owl cafes and hedgehog cafes are a thing. It’s a workable model for probably any cute animal that doesn’t smell awful or attack your patrons. Prior to our short visit to Seoul on this trip, we were excited to learn about a “Meerkat Cafe” there. Not just Meerkat… “Meerkat & Friends”. Some small fox and other adorable animals seemed to be in the mix. Our niece Emma is obsessed with cats in the way that a six-year-old can be obsessed. A brief visit to a cat cafe last year made a lasting impression. We held back on this find, the meerkat cafe, as a “surprise” once we got to Seoul.
Since our time in Seoul was quite limited, we headed over to Meerkat & Friends right after settling in to our AirBnB. The gig was up as soon as we got even close to the place. Lots of adorable banner signs. Emma knew what was up. So we go into this place…. there’s an anteroom where you drop your shoes and such first. You’re basically inside the place. You can see the meerkats crawling over guests and other animals running around. We’d seen videos of the place and read what was available online about it ahead of time. So, we were surprised when an employee approaches us gesturing that it was a no-go. That was clear immediately even in broken English. I assumed they were at capacity or closing or something. It took a bit for her to communicate that they don’t allow anyone under age 14 in the place. Oh man. Didn’t see that coming, but I guess it makes sense. I’m pretty sure at least a single tear had run down Emma’s face before we hustled her out of there. So much fail. I mean, we were bummed about not visiting the place too, but not like a six-year-old. We just had to agree that it was probably other “bad” six-year-olds that ruined it for the good ones. Anyhow. Know what fixed things? A regular old cat cafe. Thankfully, they aren’t in short supply and we found one within five minutes of the place. We spent some time cooling off and relaxing with a few drinks and all was well and forgotten. Mostly.
From there, what can I tell you? We enjoyed some street food together. Emma lost another tooth while we were getting some Bulgogi skewers. It was absolutely stifling hot for our visit. We bounced around town and did tourist stuff. We visited Gyeongbokgung Palace. We visited Tongin Market, a “lunchbox market”, for a late lunch. The concept is you pay a fee (~$5) for a roll of tokens that you exchange at various stalls for small portions of fresh dishes to fill a tray. Highly recommended. Around sunset, we did some hiking at Daemosun Station, making for some great views of Seoul.
We really should take more time in South Korea at some point, especially to get out of the capital and visit more of the country. There just wasn’t time for that on this trip though. My justification is that Seoul is an easy and comfortable hub and we have a high likelihood of being back. In terms of creature comforts, friendly people, and great food, I’ll definitely take the opportunity to visit again.