As soon as the maitre d' seated us, my lunch date started panting over the female diner at the next table. As the heady scent of pastrami wafted from the restaurant kitchen, he started drooling. Then he wolfed down a hot dog in two chomps and let out a good, long belch.
This was a date? Yes – and it was fun, too. After all, my companion wasn't some caddish boyfriend. John is a much-beloved English bulldog who has been part of my family for the past five years and we were out for a meal at Artie's New York Delicatessen on Manhattan's Upper West Side.
Restaurants Woo Pet Set
In a city where eating out is one of the top contact sports, it's hardly surprising that some restaurants are wooing the pet set and building up a most loyal clientele. While New York's restrictive health code makes it a bit of a challenge, more and more restaurants with outdoor seating are finding creative ways of catering to canines, and New Yorkers are finding out what Parisians have long known: A fine meal can taste even better with your best pal at your feet.
"The waiter automatically brings out the pickles and coleslaw for the people and a bowl of water for the dog," said Jeffrey Bank, Artie's 34-year-old owner. "We'll also bring them some pastrami or whatever, and they just scarf it down.
"In this neighborhood, you get lots of families with strollers and you also get a lot of singles with dogs," Bank continued. "We welcome kids, so why not dogs? What's good for our customers is good for us."
Health Code Bans Most Pets
The city's Health Department doesn't agree. Because of sanitary concerns, the health code bans most pets – with the exception of seeing-eye dogs and police patrol canines – from restaurants. What many restaurateurs and patrons may not realize, however, is that pets are also prohibited from outdoor cafes. Violations can carry fines up to $2,000.
"It's a gray area, but the restriction does extend outdoors," said John Gadd, a department spokesman. "This particular violation, though, has not been a source of numerous complaints."
Phil Ballatore, a co-owner of two dog-friendly Manhattan eateries, knows the risks. "I'm sure somebody could make an issue, but we've never had any problems all the time we've been here," said Ballatore of Avenue, his French-American bistro at Columbus Avenue and 85th Street, and the more casual Firehouse, just next door. "We get about 10 dogs a week at Firehouse, and they're all well-trained and well-behaved." Among Firehouse's crew of regulars is Harry, a Shar-Pei who dines off the menu at least once a week, Ballatore said.
At Avenue, each of 30 outdoor tables comes equipped with its own stainless steel water dish. Two- and four-legged patrons alike can enjoy succulent entrees like hickory-smoked prime rib or pork or rosemary-crusted lamb. "We don't serve food to the dogs, just water, but they all end up eating from their owner's plates," Ballatore said.
Pastis Stocks Dog Bowls
At Pastis, on Ninth Avenue, the staff stocks dog dishes in six different sizes and serves each pooch an appropriate-sized bowl of water. The restaurant recently earned a certificate from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) for being so dog friendly.
"My Parson Russell terrier, Rusty, comes here all the time, and we know all the neighborhood dogs by name," said general manager Stephane Gerbier. "They love to sit out on the patio and soak up the sun."
Gerbier – who grew up in Paris, where pooches are a common sight in cafes – confessed he could not understand the American disdain for dining with dogs. "Paris is dog town all the way," he said. "Having a meal out with your dog is very special," said Gerbier. "Dogs are man's best friend. Who wouldn't want to eat out with his best friend?"
While Paris may be preeminent in the pooch-friendly dining department, Los Angeles is also putting on the dog. As in New York, the County Department of Health Services bans most dogs from restaurants, but the Comedy Store in West Hollywood welcomes them to its outdoor tables and has held non-profit dog adoptions on its patio. In Pasadena, Jake's Diner & Billiards gets "quite a few" canine regulars, said assistant general manager Marc Vertoch, and over at North Hollywood's Magnolia Grill, dogs can chow down on biscuits and water.
Before planning a meal out with Fido, though, restaurateurs urge dog owners to be considerate of other diners. Make sure the pooch is leashed, has done his business beforehand and can sit patiently.
"I never understood people who think dogs are dirty or something," says Gerbier. "There are people who are much dirtier." He says he can recall only one incident where a dog misbehaved. "It was a little dog who wouldn't stop barking, so I went over and counseled him for a moment," he said. "I gave him a nice talk, and he was fine. No more problem."
During my date at Artie's, John was fine until he spotted Liza, a fellow English bulldog with a beguiling underbite, dining with her owners, Trish and Harry. Fortunately, Liza was a well-trained lady and I had a good strong leash. The hot dog in my hand didn't hurt either.
"This is Liza's first time here," said Harry, 35. "We take her to a lot of places. She likes Avenue the best, but she never gets to order her own stuff."
A busboy refilled John's water dish and never complained about the drool puddle he left on the sidewalk. When we left, a few of the waitresses blew him kisses. "I love dogs," said our waitress, Selma Palumbo. "They're a big part of being in New York."