San Francisco has a deep history with rats, dating back to 1900 when rodents first brought bubonic plague to the shores of the United States. Naturally, rats have been synonymous with sewage, trash, big cities like New York and San Francisco, plus disease.
Fast forward 117 years and came the rat cafe.
Normally, you don't want to see a rat in your coffee shop. But at the San Francisco Dungeon, a handful of rats roam around while guests sip coffee and nibble on pastries in a dark, cold space - while learning the history of rats in the city of San Francisco through a live theatrical show.
"We started thinking -- how can we bring our stories to life?" said Matthew Gunter, the head of performance for the San Francisco Dungeon. The Dungeon offers a variety of theatrical shows and interactive experiences that the guests can enjoy to learn San Francisco's "dark and sinful past."
"We thought, let's have this unique experience where people can do coffee, pastry, have a nice breakfast before seeing the show and we'll bring out rats and let them have some hands on, one-on-one time with bubonic plague-free rats," Gunter said.
Understandably, the "rat room" is separate from the coffee and pastry room. When the doors opened to the rat room, about 20-30 guests filed in and immediately crowded around the seven ambassador rats from Rattie Ratz rat rescue.
"We are actually one of – if not the only – rat rescue that’s specific to rats in all of Northern California," said Stephanie Cameron, the adoption coordinator for Rattie Ratz. "On average we foster between 40 and 60 rats, in addition to that we have another 20 in our sanctuary program."
Cameron said most rats chosen to be at the rat cafe are "ambassador rats," which means they have a calmer personality and are personally owned by some of the volunteers at the nonprofit -- so more acclimated to being around humans.
Some rats peed and pooped when they got nervous. But thankfully, there was always someone with disinfectant wipes waiting on cue.