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Catfe's debut turns into a kitten party and Jonathan Gold was there

Catfe's debut turns into a kitten party and Jonathan Gold was there
A cat awaits a friendly pet at the Catfe pop-up in Chinatown. (Jonathan Gold/Los Angeles Times)

Few upcoming restaurants have gotten quite so much play as Catfe, which is hoping to become the first American equivalent of the cat cafes in Japan. Who but the squeamish and the allergic could possibly object to a room where it is possible to throw back an espresso and pet a cat or two for a reasonable hourly fee? Who wouldn't be tempted to kick in on a Kickstarter campaign or adopt one of the kittens on loan from a neighborhood shelter?

Thursday night marked the debut of the first Catfe pop-up, in an empty storefront in Chinatown. And from almost the moment it opened, a crowd clustered outside: people in cosplay maid outfits, people wearing cat ears, people in cosplay maid outfits wearing cat ears, and a line, snaking down Hill Street, of people waiting for their half-hour inside with the cats.

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Catfe did not necessarily run smoothly on its first day. There were many more people than cats, and such cats as there were tended to be irascible, overstimulated by the dozens of outstretched hands, laps and cat toys at their disposal. The kittens were sheltered behind a transparent barrier in the window. Still -- cats! So many cats. Cats that were almost friendly, and cats that made you feel as if you had brushed against a celebrity when they deigned to let you pet them. Cats with complete medical histories listed in a dossier in case you felt like adopting one. What there wasn't was food, tea, or coffee – it was strictly BYO.

So it was nice that the Far East Plaza is the center of the young Chinatown food scene – if you were inclined, you could get a pork-belly banh mi from the Starry Kitchen pop-up, an order of Ooey Gooey Fries from Chego, and a cone with root beer-rum ice cream from Scoops after your audience with the kittens, with a nightcap of boba tea from Ten Ren. When Catfe gets its permanent space, you may be able to enjoy pu-erh with a Persian or cappuccino with a Manx. This weekend, Starry Kitchen's Vietnamese-style soda chan will more than do.

Catfe runs through Sunday, Oct. 5, in Far East Plaza, 727 N. Broadway, Chinatown, from 4 to 9 p.m.

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