Mount Purrnon, Alexandria’s first cat café, pounces into Old Town

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Mount Purrnon, Alexandria's first cat café, will be themed around Old Town's colonial roots and its historic namesake. (Courtesy photo)
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By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]

A dozen or so new tenants are coming to 109 S. Alfred St. this spring, and they’re ready to cuddle.

Mount Purrnon, Alexandria’s first cat café, doesn’t have centuries of history like its namesake but, when it opens in spring 2020, co-owners Kristen Cowen and Adam Patterson aim to bring cats, wine and a hot new business concept to Old Town.

After going to Pounce, a cat café and wine bar in Charleston, South Carolina, the couple knew they wanted to bring the concept to Alexandria.

“They are a new thing, and everyone loves the new thing, but everyone loves animals,” Patterson said. “That’s not a fad, and Alexandria is a really pet-friendly community.”

Pounce, like most cat cafés, offers people the opportunity to sip coffee, enjoy a pastry and hang out with some friendly felines, all of whom are adoptable courtesy of a partnership with a local shelter.

Owners Kristen Cowen and Adam Patterson plan to partner with a local shelter to find the 15 or so cats that will stay and play at Mount Purrnon, until they’re adopted. (Courtesy photo)

Cowen, who has three cats with Patterson, knew it was a worthwhile idea, both for herself and the many cats she could potentially help.

“This is a great way to get them out of shelters and help shelters get more cats that are in kill shelters,” Cowen said.

Cat cafés originally took off in Korea and Japan in the early 2000s. As of April 2018, there were close to 80 cat cafés in the U.S., according to petful.com, and the number is on the rise.

The DMV is home to a number of cat cafés. Crumbs and Whiskers opened in Georgetown in 2015 and Patriot Pawsabilities opened in Fairfax last year.

Miranda Rosen, manager at Crumbs and Whiskers’ D.C. location, said the concept has taken off with young people as a form of stress relief.

“A lot of times it’s students or people who are from other places visiting who miss their pets at home who just want to come and interact with some animals,” Rosensaid. “It’s a great way to relieve stress, sort of unwind.”

For Cowen, who regularly works long hours as an intel analyst, coming home to her cats is often the best part of her day, Cowen said.

“My way to relax is to hang out with my cats and drink wine,” Cowen said. “… I think a lot of people relate to that because that’s what they do to relax.”

Cat cafés also offer a more personal alternative to the traditional shelter environment.

Mount Purrnon owner Kristen Cowen with her cat Weasley, Mount Purrnon’s unofficial mascot. (Courtesy photo)

“In a cat café you get to see [cats] in their natural habitat, interacting with cats and people as they would and get a better feel for their personality before inviting them into your home to be your new companion for life,” Rosen said.

Crumbs and Whiskers has adopted out more than 1,300 cats across its three locations, Rosen said.

Cowen and Patterson launched a Kickstarter campaign in May 2018 to gauge interest and get funding for Mount Purrnon. Cowen and Patterson hit their fundraising goal of $25,000 with more than 200 backers and only a couple days to spare.

“We had people donate that are in, like, Minnesota. They’re not gonna benefit from this. They just wanted to support this idea,” Patterson said.

With funding secured, the couple knew they had to get the ball rolling, Cowen said. However, they found themselves facing a challenge that a lot of cat cafés come across: finding a location.

“There are a lot of hurdles to jump over in terms of getting a county or district to allow this sort of business that we have,” Rosen said.

Cowen insisted on locating Mount Purrnon in Old Town to keep with her colonial design theme. The neighborhood’s zoning restrictions presented immediate problems.

“A lot of Old Town is zoned in a way that they don’t allow animals at all, so we had to find a space that would allow animals with a special use permit,” Cowen said. “We’re going to have to be zoned as animal boarding and restaurant, so we had to find a place that would allow both those zonings, which was difficult, especially in Old Town.”

It took the couple about a year to secure a space, Cowen said. The couple also spent that time looking for food and wine vendors and exploring different business concepts and site designs. In September, the couple announced Mount Purrnon would be located at 109 S. Alfred St. via a newsletter.

Cowen and Patterson plan to hold holiday and special events at Mount Purrnon, including Halloween and Oktoberfest-themed special events. (Courtesy photo)

Mount Purrnon will have a $15 entrance fee during the week and $20 entrance fee on weekends. Mount Purrnon has a verbal agreement with a shelter partner that will provide the cats but they are still working to finalize the partnership, Patterson said. The café will have around 15 cats, although that number may change depending on what the shelter believes is best.

The space itself is two floors. The first floor will be split between a bar that serves beer, wine and snacks and an area where patrons can cuddle with cats. The second floor will be a lounge space for both people and cats alike.

“Downstairs will be more cabin-y with tables and things and then upstairs will be lounge-y with couches and pillows and things like that,” Cowen said.

“We’re definitely going to have a lot of shelves and places for [the cats] to perch, ramps and all that,” Patterson said. “But we also want to keep it with the colonial theme and try to make it look like an old tavern as much as possible.”

Until Cowen and Patterson take over the space on Nov. 1, they’re working with architects and contractors and getting a special use permit together in order to get on a public hearing docket. Cowen and Patterson said they are confident they’ll be able to open in spring 2020.

The most exciting aspect of the business remains the opportunity to help cats find a home, Cowen and Patterson said. Patterson recalled Cowen coming out of shelters teary-eyed because she couldn’t adopt all the cats in need. Now, she has the opportunity to find them a home.

“I just feel like everyone is so much happier with animals, and they don’t know it until they experience it,” Cowen said. “… You’re just like, ‘I want to adopt all of them.’ It’s kind of my backwards way of doing that without having to adopt 200 cats in my one-bedroom apartment.”

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