Arts Desk

Katsucon’s Maid Cafe: Strangely Chaste!

© Megan Arellano 2011

Victoria Colbranna was part of the all-volunteer staff at Katsucon's Maid Cafe.

At this weekend's Katsucon anime convention in National Harbor, there was naturally plenty of overlap between the pervy and the adorable. Pervy and polite, though? For that, you had to go to the event's Maid Cafe.

What's a maid cafe? Allow the Katsucon site to explain:

Maid Cafés are a special kind of theme restaurant that first appeared in the Akihabara area of Tokyo and became popular around the turn of the century. Unlike your typical Western restaurant, Maid Cafés are staffed by highly attentive workers of a novelty Cafés that provided extra care to individuals that they serve. As the name suggests, Maid Café workers typically dress in maid outfits or other forms of cosplay.

It doesn't take a genius to see the Maid Cafe's sexual subtext. Back in 2009, a Washington Post article on Katsucon's first Maid Cafe drew some strong reactions with its portrayal of maids who "reinforce the fantasy" and "call conventioneers 'master' and 'mistress.'"

In contrast to its reputation, though, this year's Maid Cafe felt fairly chaste.

© Megan Arellano 2011

The Maid Cafe's staff included some men.

The presence of bouncers meant that "creepers wait outside," said volunteer maid Victoria Colbranna. The maids were all quick to point out the cafe's security and non-sexual environment. Even a few men joined the mix, as both butlers and maids, although they were in the minority.

After I was admitted through security into the lobby, I was shown into an elevator by a prim, red-eyed butler. Inside the cafe, elements of Geisha culture mixed with Japanese pop for a tone that was both serene and utterly kooky. Maids delicately served miso soup and chatted and played games like Hungry, Hungry Hippos with guests. They flounced and giggled. A lot. But nothing was as loud or theatrical as you might have expected. In fact, the tone was fairly sterile. At a convention with no shortage of the nearly naked, these maids wore costumes that covered everything just above the knee. And, contrary to the scene painted in the Post's 2009 article, I didn't see any hugging—or any kind of touching between maid and patron.

© Megan Arellano 2011

Katsucon's Maid Cafe: Friendly to families!

Con-goers seemed to appreciate the reprieve, though. The ledger was full of reservations and the lobby was packed with walk-ins hoping to catch a seat. “It’s an innocent environment, " explained returning customer Patchen Mortimer. "Almost a role-playing experience that is a magical take on waitressing.”

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