Did you know Spotlight PA is a nonprofit? Learn more about our nonpartisan journalism »
Skip to main content
Main content

Down the rabbit hole at Pa.'s first bunny cafe

Plus, the return of a holiday water heater.


We've got only two weeks left to hit our $125,000 end-of-year goal and keep Spotlight PA on track for a strong 2023. We know you read and appreciate the work, so will you support it now?

As a special bonus, all gifts will be DOUBLED thanks to a special challenge grant from the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. We can't afford to leave these matching dollars on the table. Join us now.

We're grateful for your support.

Thank you!!

—Colin Deppen, PA Local editor
Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.

December 16, 2022
Inside this edition: Family portrait, holiday heat, Krampus crew, Pittsburgh deed, odd Futuro, American beauty, and coffee with rabbits.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
A 14-foot-wide, 4-foot-tall Addams family mural by influential New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams, the creator of the series, was found hidden away in a library at which Pennsylvania university?

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth sharing: Pennsylvania's greatest holiday tradition returns with a decorated water heater dropped on another lawn in Kingston, Luzerne County. Chaz Balogh was this year's recipient, and he must keep it up all season or risk getting stuck with it for another year. 

» One more thing worth sharing: Another holiday story with a Kingston dateline, this one about photo ops with the Christmas goat-demon Krampus at an oddities shop selling taxidermied blowfish.

» One thing worth knowing: The original deed for the sale of 150,000 acres of land that would ultimately become Pennsylvania's second-largest city has been found in ... Augusta County, Virginia. The Pittsburgh land was sold in 1749 for tobacco, blankets, knives, and gunpowder.

» One thing worth reading: A rare adult American chestnut tree, the last of its kind in all of Delaware, is drawing eager hikers to "the middle of nowhere," WHYY reports. The species is struggling in Pennsylvania too, and some hope gene editing can save it.

» One thing worth seeing: A defunct, UFO-shaped plastic Futuro house is still drawing tourists in New Jersey, The Inquirer (paywall) reports, while a Pennsylvania cousin is "completely destroyed." 

Spotlight PA's top original news stories of the week.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Gov. Wolf to second-guess COVID rules 'until the day I die'
» Pa. House Republicans sue over Dem-scheduled elections
» Midterm losses unlikely to soften GOP's agenda in Pa.
» Pa. House power shift could usher in election law changes
» The latest on Pa. Senate GOP's languishing 2020 inquiry
» Cost of Pa. governor's race sets new high-water mark
» Pa. health officials' medical marijuana oversight scrutinized
» PSU trustees heard diversity plan in secret 2021 gathering
» Penn State distances itself from past diversity proposals
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism and for a limited time, all gifts will be DOUBLED.
A rabbit photo-emblazoned pillow on a couch.
Don't want none unless it got bunns, hun. (Colin Deppen / Spotlight PA)

Animal cafes are big in Japan, like, really big, offering a Noah's Ark of companion options from capybara to raccoons to hedgehogs and more. 

In a September piece on Seoul's similar fixation, The Times wrote: "On a planet full of screens and concrete and microplastics and floods and fires, the bodies of other animals speak to us in a way no other language can."

Maybe it's not surprising then that these third spaces or herd spaces (anyone?) are popping up all over, including Pennsylvania, home to what may be a first-of-its-kind for the American scene. 

It's called The Hop Along Cafe and, as you might have guessed, it's a bunny cafe where coffee and snacks will mix with rabbit encounters and, ideally, adoptions of the animals, which, when weighted for their share of the pet population, remain perhaps the most frequently surrendered.

The cafe, nestled among the business towers of downtown Pittsburgh, is the work of Bex Tasker, a local political consultant whose CV includes Magistrate Xander Orenstein's pioneering campaign.

The cafe is open yet still a work in progress. Bex said permitting processes and efforts to ethically source everything in the shop have added to the runway. They hope to be fully operational, with full coffee service, by spring. There are cold and canned drinks, coffee included, on sale now.

But I was already highly caffeinated when I arrived, and that, combined with my preemptive antihistamine, briefly gave everything a nice, wavy effect. 

Before long I found myself sitting in a circle on the floor with several strangers around a rabbit named Millie who was slowly housing a bin of grass. When Millie got up to stretch and sat back down, we all delighted. 

"They have the energy of a dog and the independence of a cat," Millie's handler, Cole Orlandini, explained. (They also aren't afraid to square up.) 

I watched Millie closely as Cole ran a hand along her back. And as my standard mid-morning anxiety joined forces with the excess caffeine in my system to produce an uncomfortable degree of self-awareness, I kept watching her and her small movements until I forgot, for a few brief moments, about nearly everything and everyone else.

It was at that point that I said to myself, or maybe it was to Millie, "They might be onto something here." 

Millie the rabbit. (Colin Deppen / Spotlight PA)
What Bex ultimately envisions for the cafe is simple: An LGBTQ-friendly sober space with rabbits — and some cats —  that stays open late, making it a haven for students from nearby Point Park University, for example. Pittsburgh, it should be noted, is a town with few late-night coffee options and even fewer late-night petting zoos. 

But this isn't a zoo. The primary purpose of The Hop Along Cafe is to find homes for animals, especially bunnies that Bex said lack the kinds of legal protections extended to dogs and cats, and which breed lightning fast while potentially costing a fortune to spay and neuter in bulk.

Bex, who grew up an hour and a half away on a farm in Venango County, said coffee sales will fund related efforts, as well as rescue work, noting they've already been approached by people with cases that might fall through the cracks of more traditional rescue or shelter channels. 

"One of the first bunny groups that we had come in for one of our first events, a woman found two rabbits that had been left in Schenley Park," Bex recalled. "And three days after she brought them in, they had a litter. And then because rabbits can get pregnant at the same time they are pregnant, they had more bunnies, and she was like 'This is too many.'" 

Needless to say, lots of rabbits and lots of work lie ahead.

Opening a pet cafe is complicated. Really complicated. The businesses occupy rarified regulatory air with added hurdles at the intersection of food prep and animal care. Bex said predecessors, like Pittsburgh's Colony (cat) Cafe, offer a helpful if not always foolproof permitting blueprint. 

Bex is also determined to represent a new, ethical wave that's been building in the industry for years. That means focusing on user experience, just not at the expense of animal comfort or wellbeing. 

"We're going to do some age restrictions for little ones with the bunnies because they're very sensitive creatures," Bex said. "I mean, they're hardier than some people give them credit for, but it depends on the bunny too." 

Millie, feet away and surrounded by adoring fans, looked incredibly at ease.

Colin Deppen, PA Local editor
Support Spotlight PA's investigative journalism for Pennsylvania and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED..
A notable quote about Pennsylvania or one made by a notable Pennsylvanian.
"I grew up on a farm. It was a Christmas tree farm ..."

Taylor Swift, a Berks County native, and a claim that has prompted armchair investigations on Reddit and elsewhere; the New Yorker reported that Swift's father, a Merrill Lynch stockbroker, bought a farm from a client
Our favorite photo of the week submitted by a PA Local reader.

Longwood Gardens in Chester County, via @lora_exploresSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A bed of red and green Christmas flowers, including poinsettias.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.
The Addams family mural by New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams was found at a Penn State library in 2017, 65 years after it was created.  

The New Yorker says the piece was made by Addams in 1952 for a bar at a hotel on Long Island. When the hotel changed hands, the new owners — one a Penn State alumnus — donated the painting to the university’s Palmer Museum of Art. A few years later, it was transferred to the library, where it hung in the Lending Services area before being moved again.

PennLive has more on the visiting professor who noticed it

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

Copyright © Spotlight PA / The Philadelphia Inquirer, All rights reserved.

Spotlight PA
228 Walnut St., #11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


You're receiving this email because you subscribed to PA Local.

This email was sent to: <<Email Address>>

You can update your preferences or unsubscribe from this list.