De-Stressing at El Jefe Cat Lounge

Catherine and Faith
April 23, 2022

When walking into a so-called “cat lounge,” you’d expect to have cats prancing and purring all around you, right? Well, at El Jefe Cat Lounge, that’s exactly what you’ll experience the minute you step through the door. To the left, you have a sweet purring cat; to the right, you have one batting another to get away from their box; up in front another scampering to get food… and within minutes you’ll find yourself fully surrounded by furry felines begging to be picked up and pet. 

Following any cat will always lead to an adventure. We followed one gray kitty that was meowing so loudly we could hear him from the office door downstairs. He led us toward another that batted playfully at the air when we went to pet him; he had so much energy balled up in him! We got down on our knees, grabbed a stick with feathers on one end, and started to entice him when a cute black kitten came prancing up right next to us. This one — his name was Phil — had to be our favorite kitten there. As we stood up, the tiny rascal leapt with all he had and tried to grab the feathered toy.  He was a little under two years old and had a lot of strength in his tiny little body. He was just such a perfect cat. We loved playing with him. He even let us hold him and carry him around like a baby!

When the other cats saw us holding Phil, they came over wanting to be picked up. There was one little kitten who just loved us. Her name was Charity. She would scurry up to us every time she saw us.

Cats here, cats there, cats everywhere!

The cats were a whole experience on their own, but so was the atmosphere of the cafe. As we stepped out of our Uber and we peered into the window of the El Jefe Cat Lounge, excitement filled us from within. Looking into the large front window, we saw a fluffy cream cat and an orange cat cuddled up in a ball on a chair together. 

As we walked in, we were greeted not only by a worker named Victoria Brown, but also a wall of cat toys and accessories in every color imaginable. Before we got to meet the cats, we had to fill out a consent form in case one of them bit or scratched us. Victoria offered us complimentary beverages (with one named Liquid Death!), and then we were on our way, opening the door to a room filled with cats, cats, and more cats. There were also beautiful pictures and paintings on the walls along with hanging cat mobiles and lots of toys for these adorable fur balls to play with. 

We headed upstairs where we were surrounded by even more cats. Everywhere you looked there was a new cat with a new cat toy. Some were sprawled out on kitty beds as they played while other pounced up and down. Since there were not too many customers at the time, we got to play a little with every cat we saw. 

Purrs, whiskers, and smiles

There was not a single person there without a huge smile on their face. The campus where we live is full of stressed students this time of year, so it was refreshing and even exciting to see the happiness on the visitors’ faces as they walked through the door. Whether it was the high-spirited 10 year old girl, or all of the other stressed college students whose demeanors changed once they saw the playful cats, everyone was happy to be there. 

We went in half-expecting to see a plethora of high-energy little fur babies and we weren’t let down. We encountered a bunch of different breeds — short hairs, long hairs, you name it. All the cats were rescue cats. Some were recovering from illnesses, some were old, some young, all with unique stories. It was a true delight being able to see how happy they all were, especially since we assumed they had endured hard lives before being “rescued.”

Like us, some of the visitors were college students. We asked one of them, Sami, how being around the cats made her feel. She responded with delight: “I have homework assignments due by midnight, but these cats are really helping me de-stress and feel more at home right now.” To hear someone else feel so happy by the cats and know that they are making her feel so at home is warming to hear. Many times college can be very demanding and it is hard to justify taking a break from doing homework. Visitors to this “cat cafe” all had a sense of relief and relaxation (including the kitties running around) just from having cats walking around them along with the calming scenery. 

How and why?

Just like the cats roaming around, we were curious and had a few questions about the cat lounge. We made our way over to Victoria, who was petting an adorable kitty sleeping inside of one of the many cat trees. She knew the names of each cat we picked up. There were two identical-looking black cats, but she knew who was who. “We try our hardest to get to know all of the cats,” she said, “and once we do, we know them pretty well.” Meanwhile, the rambunctious black cat, Phil, strolled right up to Victoria with confidence, brushing up against her as if agreeing that, yes, the El Jefe staff knows him very well. 

With this specific “cat lounge” being unique to Tucson, we were curious as to where the idea and inspiration came from. Victoria told us that it was inspired by the cat cafes in Japan and that they wanted to recreate a place where people can play with cats without needing the responsibility of owning them.

Why Tucson of all places? Victoria explained that the idea came from trying to find somewhere close to the University of Arizona campus in order to help give college students a place to hangout with the cats if they were stressed or missed their pets.  When Victoria started giving the cats medicine, Tiffany Lee graciously answered our last question. The cat lounge has so many activities, so which one is the most popular? Tiffany thought for a second and confidently said, “Cat yoga is probably our most popular activity, it almost always sells out. Cat bingo is super popular as well.” To us, that meant it was our next Saturday night activity.

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Catherine Wallat is from Michigan and is studying biomedical engineering at UArizona. Faith James is from Alaska and hasn’t yet decided on what to major in.