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The project’s November fundraiser was the perfect place for dog lovers and their four-legged friends to sit back and have a beer—or a nice long drink of water.

Bar K is opening next spring in Kansas City to change the way people socialize with their dogs

Words by Allison Trebacz
Photos by Gracie Piper

So if a dog is a man’s best friend, why aren’t there more places for dogs and their owners to spend time together? Maybe enjoy an appetizer and a drink? Well, the FDA, mostly.

Long-established health codes don’t allow dogs anywhere near a space where food is prepared unless they’re a service animal or if several other clauses in the law—proper partitioning, a certain classification of establishment, proper containment, et cetera—can be met.

Luckily, one man in Kansas City had an idea. He’s attempting a more satisfying solution to our 21st century woes: A dog park and restaurant hybrid—a dog country club, if you will, where everyone knows your dog’s name. Dogs still aren’t allowed inside, but it’s a step in the right direction for dog owners.

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The project is called Bar K, and it’s been met with overwhelming support: 1,500 likes on Facebook and considerable pop-up event attendance. But it hasn’t opened yet. Bar K is set to open spring of 2017, just in time for dog park season.

Dave Hensley, managing partner of Bar K, compares the fully staffed dog park to a doggy daycare. “You’ll be able to drop your dog off in the park, and you can either hang out with your dog at the park, or you can go inside and hang out.”

It’s taken the better part of two years for Hensley and his team to get as far as they have. What they’re creating with Bar K is a unique experience for dogs and people.

And they’re going all out.

The indoor restaurant has a strict “no dogs allowed” policy, but they’ll serve breakfast, lunch and dinner with a casual, local and healthy menu with coffeehouse fare. A full bar will feature a craft cocktail menu. The patio will allow diners and dogs to eat together, if that’s what they prefer. Only dogs and owners with memberships will be admitted, but with that membership they’ll have access to the fully staffed dog park at any time. “Part of the job of the park [staff],” Hensley said, “is going to be to entertain the dogs and make sure they’re well behaved.”

Memberships will run about $149 with an additional $25 fee for each additional dog in the household. The membership is a way for Bar K to better regulate vaccinations and socialization and guarantee a safe and fun environment for all patrons—especially the four-legged ones.

In the meantime, they’re hosting a “Pup UP Event” every month called “Rover” that will bring the small-scale Bar K experience to different destinations around Kansas City. Jennifer Lorincz attended a Bar K-sponsored event in November with her dog, Daisy. “I think that’s a great idea,” Lorincz said. “I can’t wait until it opens. I think it’s fantastic.”

“What we look at is, can we create a great place that people can come with or without dogs?” Hensley said. He expects that Bar K will fill a much-needed niche and lead the way for similar venues.  

And he’s not wrong. The ASPCA reports that 37 to 47 percent of all households in the U.S. have a dog, and the industry that serves those pooches generates over $60 billion in revenue annually. More specifically, Hensley is hoping to target the people with extra disposable income and no kids—typically millennial households who contributed $10.6 billion to the pet industry in 2014. In the last ten years, millennials were responsible for 43 percent growth in pet owners—and they love their dogs.

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“A lot of those people are getting dogs, and [the dogs] are their kids,” Hensley said. “They treat them like they’re their kids, spend money on them like they’re their kids, they talk to them like they’re their kids and, just like parents, want to hang out with people with kids that are about the same age. People with dogs want to hang out with people that have dogs and understand.”

He’s not wrong. According to Pew Research, 85 percent of dog owners consider their pets family. Lorincz does, and that’s why she is interested in Bar K. “If we want to go out for the day, or we just want to go out in the afternoon if it’s nice out, we want to be able to take our dog,”” she said. “The dog can go out and play in the dog park, and you can have your drinks or your food [and] not have to worry about your dog because your dog is in the park having fun right next door.”

If only parenting was this easy.