A dog walks into a bar. He sits down by the door and promptly goes to sleep.
He’s a Bullmastiff, big as a bouncer, with a fire hydrant of a head and neck. The American Kennel Club describes the breed this way: “Fearless at work, docile at home, the Bullmastiff is a large, muscular guarder who pursued and held poachers in Merry Old England — merry, we suppose, for everyone but poachers. Bullmastiffs are the result of Bulldog and Mastiff crosses.”
They tend to have heroic names like Brutus or Caesar, if not something you’d expect for an English butler, like Jeeves or Higgins, befitting their British roots and legacy of royal service.
This one is called Atlas. He’s the bar dog at an unnamed local pub that exudes a James Joyce vibe, a regular presence.
“Everybody loves Atlas,” Will, one of the bartenders, told us the other day.
Nothing perturbs him. People walk their dogs by the open door of the bar all the time, and Atlas generally responds to their yapping, if at all, with at most a half-raised eyelid. But not too many customers try to rile him up. Let sleeping dumptrucks be.
Dogs have been selectively bred and rigorously trained to do some really tough jobs: Sniff luggage for drugs or bombs. Herd sheep. Assist physically challenged people. Keep the Kardashians entertained.
They are firefighters, guards, hospital workers, acrobats, pointers, fetchers. Some dogs can even dance on their hind legs while riding a pony around in circles.
Has adequate attention been paid to the vital needs of properly equipped drinking establishments?
Atlas comes close. Let’s look at some of the key characteristics of a good bar dog:
• Not too small, so as to avoid getting accidentally stepped on.
• Really big or really ugly, so as to encourage a certain amount of decorum on the part of customers deep into their third or fourth shot of tequila.
• They should in some way be interesting to talk about. A bar dog should be a conversation starter. “Man, that’s a big dog,” seems pretty obvious, but it’s a lot better than, “Do you know the WIFI password in here?”
• Not prone to overreacting when somebody stumbles into them.
• Not too hairy, but even if they are hairy, not a dog that sheds excessively. Customers don’t like fishing dog hair out of their martinis.
• Not a lot of barking. No barking is even better.
• Absolutely no waste disposal on the floor.
• Not a lot of running around. Better they rest quietly beside the door and can be counted on to signal for a walk when the need for fresh air arises.
• Tolerant of petting, but can take it or leave it.
• No begging. Ideally, won’t accept food offered by any unauthorized persons.
Our dog, Trixie, would be a lousy pub dog. Too hairy, too reactive, way too much begging. Hates being petted. Has never snapped at anyone, but growls viciously if anybody gets too close or tries touching her from behind.
A bar dog should be friendly and love strangers, but not show too much affection. Sort of like a good bartender, a good bar dog knows when to engage and when to back off.
I sat next to somebody at the bar and said, “Man, that’s a big dog.” She raised an eyebrow, and glanced in my direction briefly before returning to her stupid phone. But at least she didn’t bite my head off.
Atlas just shrugged.
Carl T. Hall is a longtime union organizer in San Francisco who is now a co-owner of Word. A Café, a dog friendly coffee shop now open for business in the Bayview Neighborhood. Readers can pick up copies of Bay Woof there, too.
Main article photo by: Dun.can-Creative Commons