Woof! New England's first dog bar opens for pet parents and their furry friends
If this were an old-school joke, it could start something like this:
A guy walks into a bar with his border collie mix and orders two drinks. In Boston, you might predict the punch line involves a bartender kicking them out the door. But much happier endings are unfolding for humans and their furry friends at a new establishment in Everett. Park-9 is New England's first full-service dog bar. It occupies a 10,000-square-foot space located in the city's brewery-heavy “fermentation district.”
“I saw this concept pop up in Minnesota, and I thought it was genius,” Park-9 co-founder Emily Gusse said. She also remembered wondering why there wasn't anything like it in Massachusetts. Gusse went on to develop an elevated dog bar idea with her spouse and brother-in-law, Tess Kohanski and Chris Kohanski.
The couple's golden retriever, Nora, also provided inspiration. “It's really just selfish,” Gusse admitted with a laugh, “because we wanted a place to go with our pet and our friends — so we decided to just do it ourselves.”
Tess Kohanski's experience as a former urban planner for Everett came in handy. “Boston is a notoriously unfriendly city and state, frankly, to dogs and dog owners," she said. "So there was just this massive, pent-up demand and lack of supply.” That's especially true after the boom in pandemic puppy adoptions.
Park-9 celebrated its debut on April 13 with a bang — and a few whimpers — at what was cheekily billed as a “leash-cutting.” Hands shook and tails wagged as a pack of local officials lauded the pioneering concept. Flanked by his two German shepherds, Ruby and Hugo, Everett mayor Carlo DeMaria expressed high hopes for Park-9's contribution to the city's revitalization efforts. “It's a great idea,” he told me, “especially if you live in this area where there are so many new, dog-friendly buildings.”
It took more than a year to renovate the historic, industrial building that once housed a cement mixing company. Now, pups can romp in its thoughtfully-designed, outdoor and indoor play spaces. There's even a separate area for small dogs and shy “gentle giants.” Another section has picnic tables with leashes attached to the legs. Plenty of water stations, poop bags and paper towels can be found throughout.
“We understand this concept isn't for every dog, and it's not for every person,” Gusse said. “But for the ones who want to get out there and have their dog get social — whether that's off-leash or on-leash — it's a great space to come out, meet new people and have a great beverage.”
Bar manager Michelle Gitschier concocted cleverly-named cocktails, including the “Snoop D-O-GG,” “Bark Side of the Moon,” and “Pup-Loma.” Park-9 is also teaming up with Titos Handmade Vodka on their inaugural “cocktail for a cause” — called "The Bob Barker" — that supports dog-related charities.
Among the non-alcoholic options you'll find “All Bark, No Bite” and “Sit. Stay. (Don't) Rollover.” There's also a long list of craft beer, cider and hard seltzer sourced from largely New England-based breweries. General manager and certified sommelier Andrea Bergner said, “Until now I've never paired wine with dog treats.”
Your read that right. Owners have the option to order drinks with recommended pairings. Locally-made, artisan dog treats from Preppy Puppy and Polkadog bakeries include a seafood trio “flight” with cod skins, salmon bones and a “Chowdah Stick.” Humans can also sate their appetites with food provided by a rotating cast of local purveyors.
On opening day, pet parents waited outside Park-9 in a line that stretched down the sidewalk. Lauren Dicredico, who lives around the corner, walked over with her 6-month-old brindle pit bull named Roxie. “I used to live in Denver, and everywhere allowed dogs,” Dicredico said. “So now there's a spot here to bring your dogs that's indoors, not just outdoors.” Her new puppy is always full of energy after spending time in her crate, “and I just want to be able to take her out with me. Plus, Boston has crappy weather, so we can do it in the winter.”
Luis Fayad was the first customer to step up to the registration desk. He and his two dogs, Jaeger and Tessie, moved back to the Boston area from Oregon three weeks ago. “I'm so happy they have a place to socialize,” Fayad said, “and it's right across the street.”
Any conscientious owner is probably wondering about safety. The rules at Park-9 are more stringent than at your average dog park. Parents have to sign a liability waiver stating they're responsible for the actions of their dogs. Park-9's team also sought guidance from local animal control officers and veterinarians. Cameras have been placed throughout the space to capture incidents if they occur, but hopefully, that would be avoided through early intervention. Among the dog bar's 30 employees is a team of trained “Park Rangers” charged with ensuring the canine community plays together nicely.
Owners are required to pre-register their dogs to supply proof of age and updated vaccinations. Pups also need to be at least 4 months old. If they're older than a year, they must be neutered or spayed.
Looking ahead, the two Kohanskis and Gusse hope to organize all kinds of community events at Park-9. They also want to explore how dogs can help with people's mental health. For now, though, they're just happy to be able to invite all humans, and their best friends, to a safe and welcoming space.
“There are people from every walk of life that have every shape and size of dog,” Gusse said. “And I think it really is a great uniter to have dogs in the same space that bring different people to the same space. Fundamentally, I think dogs just bring people together.”