Pittsburgh’s Colony Cafe combines cats, cocktails, coffee
On a recent late Saturday morning, the Colony Cafe on Pittsburgh’s Penn Avenue begins to fill up — downstairs and upstairs.
On the first floor, Erik Hendrickson, co-owner with his wife, Sue, is preparing food orders.
The bistro menu includes individually crafted coffee beverages, wine, beer and cocktails.
Some of those signature cocktails’ names — Felix, Garfield, Lucky Calico — are nods to the cafe’s upstairs occupants.
The loft is home to approximately a dozen cats at a time, all up for adoption through Animal Friends. More than 200 cats have been adopted since the cafe opened in February 2017, Hendrickson says. There’s an $8 per hour cat loft fee (reservations suggested) to hang out and play with the cats.
First, the food
The Hendricksons opened the city’s first cat cafe after burning out on their corporate jobs in New York City. “We just knew we wanted a second act in life,” Hendrickson says.
After noticing the lines at a pop-up cat cafe in New York, they visited several more in different cities before a former colleague of his suggested they check out Pittsburgh.
“We just fell in love with it. It’s an interesting neighborhood, beautiful architecture, a walkable neighborhood,” Hendrickson says.
Of Italian and Swedish heritage, Hendrickson uses many of his mother’s recipes. The cafe, currently open Wednesday through Sunday, offers different homemade soups daily. Varieties include potato corn chowder and cream of tomato, each served with sourdough bread for $4.25.
“Our avocado ‘pitza’ is something people come in and ask for,” Hendrickson says.
The menu describes it as hummus, avocado and fresh greens with olive oil and lemon juice on a toasted pita, $8.75.
“The line of gourmet cheese melts are the most popular,” he says. Options include the classic, Dutch (Gouda with caramelized mushrooms and onions), Roman (mozzarella with crushed San Marzano tomato and prosciutto) and turkey and Swiss with a cilantro-ranch dressing, served on sourdough with a side of fresh greens and ranging from $8.25 to $11.25. Shareable cheese or charcuterie boards, $15-$20, can be paired with a wine flight or beer. In-housed baked desserts include coffeecake, gobs, chocolate fudge and vanilla butter cake.
Pitt students Maria Bordonaro, 18, and Zach Nolasco, 20, tried the goat cheese and fig jam spread, $9.25, and a Cuban melt on their first visit before heading up to the cat loft. Making friends, finding homes
“This is a good place to come if you’re considering (cat) adoption,” he says.
He should know. The Hendricksons have adopted two of the loft’s former occupants. “My wife has been involved in cat rescue her whole life. I’m an animal lover. I grew up with cats and dogs,” he says.
The cats live in the roamable loft, quiet and dimly lit, filled with water fountains, climbing towers, toys and cat beds.
“It’s very similar to a home setting. This is getting them ready to be in their forever homes,” says Shannon Clarke, Animal Friends’ spokeswoman.
The cats’ socialization skills also improve, as they interact with many different personalities. “You can see if you like a cat who’s playful or rambunctious or more aloof. … And if you can’t have pets, you can come and get your fill by hanging out with them,” she says.
The cafe space also frees up room at Animal Friends for 12 more homeless cats, Clarke adds.
Claire Medinis, 18, of Dallas, a Point Park University freshman, and her cousin, Erica Medinis, 18, visiting from Northern Michigan University, petted and played with several cats during a recent visit. “I have four cats at home. I miss them so much,” Claire Medinis says.
“I love cats, but my parents are allergic. This (visit) was a surprise. I love it,” Erica Medinis says, trying to coax a cat out from under a chair.
Loft visitors are limited to a maximum of 10 at a time, Hendrickson says, to keep the cats from getting overwhelmed.
“We get a lot of hard-to-place cats,” Hendrickson says. “It feels good to have people come in and enjoy your food and it feels good to help at-risk animals,” he says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .