Why you should care

Because, if anything, it’s a hoot. 

Kitten cafes are so last year. If you want to get your animal mojo on while sipping some java, owls are the next big thing on the cuddle-cafe beat. Sounds a little strange, but when you pay attention to high consumer demand for novelty experiences — Euromonitor’s 2014 study of the British bar and cafe business found that specialist coffee shops grew 6 percent in 2013, and predicted that figure would rise — it doesn’t seem so far-fetched.

Annie the Owl Bar is scheduled to open in London on March 19 as a one-week pop-up, letting visitors admire owls and enjoy beverages simultaneously. The organizers are hoping that Harry Potter’s Hedwig will do for owls what Grumpy Cat did for the cat cafe trend — draw in a crowd — with proceeds going to an (undisclosed) owl charity.

“… they are relaxing places to interact with birds you may not otherwise encounter.”

Lynn Allmon, editor at Wander Tokyo

The owl cafe concept originated in the East, with establishments popping up in South Korea and Japan around three years ago. The premise is simple: Visitors experience being surrounded by feathered friends, drink their coffee and, depending on location, pet and pose with the owls.

“Not many people get the opportunity to see owls up close, especially in Tokyo, so one of the biggest pros is that they are relaxing places to interact with birds you may not otherwise encounter,” Lynn Allmon, editor at Wander Tokyo, told OZY about her experience at Fukuro no Mise, a popular owl cafe in Tokyo. She enjoyed petting the baby owls, and found them incredibly cute.

With Love From Japan blogger Eustacia Tan had a good time at the Hakata owl cafe in Fukuoka, Japan, and said this was partly due to the staff. “They’re well-prepared for owl emergencies,” she says. “Thankfully, I’ve never been pooped on.” Yes, that’s a concern. She was impressed with how she was briefed on the owls — how to correctly stroke them, and approach them without scaring them.

But why is this so appealing? Travel Caffeine editor Tom Bricker thinks it’s because of its uniqueness; he visited one hoping it “would typify some of the cultural oddities of Japan.” He was pleased there was so much face-time with the owls, but had some concerns if they were treated well.

This is something that PETA Senior Director Colleen O’Brien echoes. “Owls and other wild animals don’t belong in clubs or cafes,” she says. Loud noises, flashing lights and crowds “are extremely stressful” and may traumatize “sensitive wild animals,” she explains, adding that when they’re no longer “useful” or grow too big, many end up in “squalid roadside zoos.”

In response to this general concern, Seb Lyall, one of the planners of the London pop-up, changed the beverage menu from cocktails to smoothies, and stressed in a press release that the venue is not a traditional bar: It has space for the birds to be comfortable with their falconers, and their welfare has top priority.

w00t w00t!

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