Americans are obsessed with their pets, and Charlotte is no different. We might just even be a little bit more so, considering the plethora of animal-themed shops, services and publications.
You want someone to pick up your dog poop? Services compete for your dollars. You want to read dog-themed articles and see glossy cat photos? Carolina Bark and Dogs & Cats of Charlotte cater to your tastes.
But perhaps the biggest sign that Charlotte has (and I will not write "gone to the dogs") become a place for animal lovers is The Dog Bar.
I initially scoffed at the suggestion that a bar catering to dog owners is weird. Dogs and beer go together like Hank Williams and Jack Daniels, don't they?
But yes, allowing your animals to join you in public while you relax with a beer (or five) may just be a strange idea -- at least in the sense that not many people do it. A pet-centered bar, through that lens, is about as seemly as a bar in Uptown where sweat pants are the preferred attire.
But at The Dog Bar on North Davidson Street, Yuengling and Golden Retrievers seem like a natural combo. Hank Williams isn't playing on the jukebox, unfortunately, but the Dixie Chicks and the Red Hot Chili Peppers are. And the walls are plastered with dog photos.
"A lot of people meet each other here that wouldn't normally do so in a bar," says co-owner Audra Hartness says. "They start talking about their dogs. They feel comfortable."
Twenty-nine-year-old Hartness and J.P. Brewer, 37, opened The Dog Bar in October 2005. Brewer, who also owns several doggie daycare businesses, by then had grown accustomed to hearing customers wish for places where they could comfortably drink with their dogs.
"You work all day, and you feel like you didn't spend any time with your animal, but you want to go out and have a cocktail," Hartness says. "So the concept is to kind of just take the guilt off people's shoulders. You can go out and spend time with your dog, too."
Tony Riggs, 35, moved to Charlotte from northern Kentucky. He doesn't have his dog here yet, so he brings his roommate's Weimaraner and Great Dane mix, Sascha, to the bar. "I saw this place, and I said, 'I have to check that out,'" Riggs says. "It's just more laid-back than what most bar scenes are."
Hartness estimates she's seen between 30 and 45 dogs -- from Chihuahuas to Great Danes -- at the bar at night. During the summer months, many people hang out with their dogs on the patio, which is double-gated for their protection. Dogs must have proof of rabies vaccination, and their owners must pay a $10 membership fee. One might think that so many dogs might yield a stressful scene, but Hartness says they've never had a fight. What kind of bar serving a purely human crowd can say that?
Animal lover that she is, Hartness isn't about to press her luck: There will be no Cat Bar opening anytime soon. "I love cats. But they are what they are," she says. "I can't imagine putting my cat in the car, driving it to a bar and putting it on the ground with 20 other cats. I just don't think that'd go over really well."
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