And here is my idea of paradise.
It exists, after all, in Charlotte, North Carolina, where five years ago two dog lovers got together and opened a bar that takes “dog-friendly” to new and unfettered bounds.
This is not a bar you have to sneak your dog into, not a bar where you and your dog must sit prim and proper-like outside, not a bar where your dog must remain on his or her leash.
At The Dog Bar in Charlotte’s NoDa neighborhood, it’s not uncommon to see a dog behind the bar, a dog on top of the bar, a dog on top of a dog on top of the bar. Here dogs can be dogs. They can romp, run, drool and even — as Ace and that German shepherd appear to be doing in the slideshow above — flirt a little bit.
This, for dogs, and for me and my continuing quest for true dog-friendliness, was the promised land — a place so joyous, so non-uptight, so calmly chaotic that I could only sit back and take it all in for a bit before getting to my questions.
And my biggest question — being from Baltimore, where the health department considers ice “food,” and as a result bans dogs from the inside of bars — was how the heck did they get away with it?
Actually, it was pretty simple. The two women who opened The Dog Bar, J.P. Brewer and Audra Hartness, say they faced no insurmountable hassles when they made plans to hang up their bone-shaped shingle and open for business
“The city kind of scratched its head, like, ‘OK, I guess.” said Hartness, who was tending bar when we dropped in this week.
Initially, the health department’s only concerns — since the bar doesn’t serve food — were the bar’s glassware and the temperature of the water used to wash it. When, about a month after opening, the bar did away with glassware entirely — opting for plastic cups and beer served only in aluminum cans — those concerns went out the window.
Though the bar doesn’t serve food, you can still eat there. There’s a plethora of interesting restaurants right there in the neighborhood, most of which offer takeout and/or delivery.
The operators say they’ve heard of only one or two bars in the country that allow dogs such access.
Brewer adopted Foster, a Weimaraner, after his owner passed away from cancer. When she decided the doggie day care she dropped him off at was not providing a loving enough environment, she started one of her own — Club K-9, also located in NoDa.
There, the visiting dogs had a good time. The dog owners would show up, socialize, then head home with their pooches. Brewer thought there should be a place where both dogs and owners can socialize, enjoy both inter- and intra-species interactions, and have some fun.
She formed a partnership with Hartness, one of her doggie daycare customers who had a background in running bars and restaurants. And in October, 2005, they opend the bar.
On a typical night, there might be 15 dogs in the joint, on Fridays even more.
We dropped in on a Sunday. Ace and a black Great Dane named Dungy (after the football coach) were the first to arrive. Dungy was ready to play. Ace, not quite sure what to make of a dog bigger than himself, mostly kept his distance. Soon more dogs arrived — a boxer named Dempsey (after the boxer, Jack); two more Great Danes, one blind, one deaf; and Zero, a first-time visitor.
“This place is fantastic,” Zero’s owner remarked the second she and her dog came through the double gates entrance. “It really is a dog bar!”
The bar charges a $10 lifetime membership fee, and requires proof of rabies vaccination, and that dogs over a year be spayed or neutered. There are no breed restrictions.
“As long as the dog is friendly off leash, there’s no problem,” Hartness said.
The bar has a fenced outdoor area — complete with plastic palm trees and beach umbrellas — where dogs can run, play and sip from troughs of water. Sometimes, when the crowd gets too big, they fence off the parking lot as well. Inside the bar, which has windows opening onto the patio, one wall is covered with black and white photographs, taken by Brewer, of her dogs and many of the regular canine customers.
Non dog-lovers don’t always get it, Brewer told the Charlotte Observer in an interview a couple of years after The Dog Bar opened.
“You see people walk past here and they do a double-take,” she said. Once, two elderly ladies drove up in the parking lot and asked, “What kinds of hot dogs do you sell?”
But dog-lovers do. Hartness says dog owners know to bring only well-socialized dogs, and she advises those who appear to have trepidations about their dogs to come back when their pets are better socialized. Most, though, know their dogs limits.
The presence of dogs — four-legged icebreakers that they are — means conversations start and flow easily at The Dog Bar. If there are any awkward silences, a dog generally drops by to help fill them. There were no real altercations on the night I was there — human or dog — and the only damage done I could see/feel resulted from the tendency of Great Dane’s whip-like tails to be exactly at human groin level. When they get happy, watch out.
Other than that, the night was sheer joy, in the kind of place I’ve only dreamed about — where dogs and humans can enjoy each other and be themselves.
Here’s to a happy future for The Dog Bar.
While The Dog Bar is, beyond doubt, the dog friendliest establishment in Charlotte, there are many more dog-friendly locales. Keep reading for the list.
This list was compiled by the Charlotte Observer’s Gayle Shomer and was originally published two years ago.
CANINE CAFE: 1447 S. Tryon St. www.caninecafe.net.
OWEN’S BAGEL & DELI: 2041 South Blvd. www.owensbagelanddeli.com.
SMELLY CAT COFFEEHOUSE: 514 E. 36th St. www.smellycatcoffee.com.
SNUG HARBOR: 1228 Gordon St. www.snugrock.com.
VISART: 1945 E. 7th St., a movie rental store in Elizabeth.
BRUEGGER’S BAGEL BAKERY/ CARIBOU COFFEE: 1531 East Blvd.
EINSTEIN BROS. BAGELS: 1501 South Blvd.www.einsteinbros.com.
FUEL PIZZA: 1501 Central Ave. and 500 S. College St. www.fuelpizza.com.
PHAT BURRITO: 1537 Camden Road.
PHILOSOPHER’S STONE: 1958 E. 7th St. www.philosophersstonetavern.com.
SIR EDMOND HALLEY’S: 4151-A Park Road, www.halleyspub.com.
STARBUCKS: 1401 East Blvd. and 800 W. Tryon St., www.starbucks.com.
STOOL PIGEONS: 214 N. Church St. www.stoolpigeons.biz.
THOMAS STREET TAVERN: 1228 Thomas Ave. www.thomas-street-tavern.com.