A veiled chameleon, chilled-out chinchillas and laughing doves greet guests at the Vasmacska KávéZoo, a recently opened hangout by the cobblestoned main square of Óbuda. Putting animal welfare first, the café is a peaceful oasis, both for zoological inhabitants and customers, who are requested to refrain from stroking the pets.

A Danish couple has aptly described Vasmacska with that hallowed word hygge, referring to the comfortable conviviality of the place – and you will immediately understand why. In the front hall, a pair of laughing doves welcome visitors, indicating that this is not your ordinary afternoon hangout.

Around the coffee tables, a group of chinchillas lounges in their cage, while a terrarium is home to a veiled chameleon. The owner Zsuzsi’s dogs roam around the café freely.

This is not the first place in Budapest that fuses a café with a menagerie. Downtown, the Zoo Caféa place where guests can interact with animals, has been successfully operating for many years. By way of negative example, former Exzootic Café on Buda’s Bartók Béla út was forced to close.

Zsuzsa explains that cafés housing animals must meet a lot more requirements than any ordinary locale. Apart from regulations by bodies such as the National Food Chain Safety Office (Nébih) and the National Public Health and Medical Officer Service (ÁNTSZ), Vasmacska can also expect a visit from the Official Veterinary Service at any time. Safety regulations include keeping animal food and used bowls separate from those for human guests. Animals are also not allowed to enter the kitchen and they cannot be exposed to constant artificial light.

Inside the café are also colonies of fish, a hamster and a bearded dragon, a lizard species from Australia. The backyard serves as a terrace in summer, a real-life nativity scene around Christmas and is currently home to hopping bunnies, soothing your mood as you sip coffee, beer or wine.

“We didn’t expect that the café will have such a therapeutic effect on our guests,” says Zsuzsa, who also shares her private home with a whole group of animals.

As for the café's menu, you would probably expect a vegetarian-only selection, but Vasmacska also serves chicken tortilla and quesadilla with ham. Vegan desserts also feature. A prix-fixe lunch menu is offered on weekdays.

The café often hosts animal-related donation and adoption events, and serves as a regular meeting venue for sausage dogs and their owners.