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Art That’s Right up Your Alley(Cat)

painting of woman sitting on green rug drinking coffee surrounded by cats, with the words "Alley Cat" written below

Whether you’re an early riser or a night owl, a coffee lover or a tea drinker, a socializer or a studier, a cafe near campus caters to you. But, take one step inside and you’ll discover it’s much more than just a cozy coffee shop.

The AlleyCat Cafe, located on the top floor of 120 W. Laurel St., is also an immersive art gallery, a midnight hangout, a place to connect and a local business doing good in the Fort Collins community.

The AlleyCat has become known as an informal art gallery, presenting creations made by people from all walks of life. Artwork isn’t contained to just the walls, though. The ceiling is a mosaic of painted tiles, each unique and designed by a different artist. Some tiles are realistic, some are abstract, some are 3D, some are poetic and some are meant to be viewed at a certain angle. The ceiling tiles have become a defining feature of the AlleyCat, and the artists who are lucky enough to claim a spot on the ceiling contribute to this local legacy. There aren’t enough ceiling tiles for everyone who wants one, however, so most are awarded to regulars who prove they truly want to become part of the cafe. 

Artwork of pink and yellow cat drinking coffee
The painted ceiling tiles are a defining feature of the AlleyCat Cafe. Each tile is created by a different artist. (Kendall Martin | College Avenue Magazine)

The majority of the art comes from ordinary people who want to express themselves and support the cafe, though some feature pieces are by prominent regional artists. For example, the cat mural on the building’s outside wall was painted by Lindee Zimmer, director of the Fort Collins Mural Project and an artist who has created multiple murals in the city and across the world. 

Although the ceiling tiles are mostly permanent, the cafe also hosts month-long art shows that bring new life to its interior. Most of the artwork displayed on the walls is for sale at reasonable prices, and cheaper prints are also available. 

Because the cafe isn’t an official art gallery, it’s much more accepting of artwork that might be considered unorthodox, like art made from feathers, resin, and pressed flowers. Subjects have ranged from a cup-of-tea chessboard to a brain with teeth. The AlleyCat curates pieces from “artists a lot of places would turn away,” said Abbey Harrison, who’s worked at the cafe since 2014.

The AlleyCat supports the community not only by showcasing work from local artists but also by sourcing ingredients from locally owned businesses. The cafe works with Savory Spice Shop in Old Town and Jackie’s Java, along with many other Fort Collins businesses. 

“At the AlleyCat, everything is community-based, so that’s why we find it important to draw from local business because we’re supporting community members,” said barista Tyler Borkowski. 

By drawing their fare from small businesses in the area, the cafe promotes the same concept it hopes will bring customers through its doors: people supporting people. 

“You know you always have a place to come to,” Harrison said. “If you come in and look utterly distraught, you can probably sit down at the bar and have a conversation with someone.” 

Many people who don’t have a place to go for the night are welcomed in, whether they missed a flight, got locked out of their house, need someone to talk to or are simply looking for a roof over their head.

You know you always have a place to come to. If you come in and look utterly distraught, you can probably sit down at the bar and have a conversation with someone.” Abbey Harrison, AlleyCat Cafe barista

“That’s just been a role that this place has not necessarily willingly and aggressively taken on, but it has happened to be here for those types of things,” Harrison said. 

The cafe’s environment shifts with the time of day. The quiet early-morning evolves into a brighter, caffeine-buzzed afternoon, which transforms into a bustling and vibrant scene after dark, then slowly fading back into the peacefulness of the morning. But, a diverse crowd fills the seats around the clock, taking in the warm, art-filled atmosphere.

For 16 years, the AlleyCat Cafe has filled the lives of its guests with warmth, color, and culture – all while supporting the community. 

“A lot of weird things have happened here, and will continue to happen here,” Borkowski said. “But that’s okay because we’re all going through it together.”