YOUNTVILLE — Water dishes are placed under the countertops where lamb sliders and prosecco are served. Tiny pet treats share a wooden dish with cookies. And nearly all the guests at the monthly social inside this sleek Upvalley resort arrive in pairs, one visitor on two legs and the other on four.
On the first Tuesday of each month from May to October, the Bardessono resort becomes host to the Dog Bar, an interspecies happy hour where canines are not only welcome but often the most popular guests. Within the shaded atrium of the resort’s Lucy Restaurant & Bar, human visitors have two hours to socialize while their dogs, yapping or sniffing other dogs or nuzzling their owners, do the same.
Last week, while two dozen guests from Yountville, Napa and St. Helena chatted and laughed over glasses of wine, they spent as much time greeting, petting or nuzzling the visitors at their feet – a terrier mix here, a Chesapeake Bay retriever there, or Fozzy, Linda Goldfarb’s bristly “Heinz 57” mutt of a cancer therapy dog.
“I try to take her everywhere I go,” said Goldfarb, a St. Helena vintner who was making her first visit to the Dog Bar. “I think it feels good, knowing she’s comfortable with other dogs.”
Though the Bardessono opened five years ago, the Dog Bar is a more recent arrival at the Yountville hideaway, introduced by a director who spent years making other places more welcoming to man’s best friend.
“It’s something I’d done in other hotels; I used to call it Yappy Hour,” said Jim Treadway, who staged regular pet-friendly socials at hotels as president of the Westin chain before becoming the Bardessono’s general manager. In the spring of 2013, he brought the idea to Yountville, patterning the name after the resort’s Dive Bar poolside parties.
Hotels and haute-cuisine eateries have given Yountville a stream of annual visitors far outnumbering the town’s 3,500 residents. But for the Dog Bar’s creators, the canine social is a way to bridge the gap between a resort and nearby locals, using a near-universal and seemingly irresistible bond.
“This is more about bringing together locals who have one thing in common, and that’s a love of dogs,” said Treadway. “It’s less about hotel guests than about the local community. We just have a once-a-month party here, so we’re not distant or aloof.”
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“It’s a type of clientele we don’t get all the time: friendly, laid-back, a lot of familiar faces,” said Ross Wheatley, Bardessono’s director of food and beverage, who arrived with Bodie, his adopted basset hound. “I could charge a lot more for this, but that’s not the point. It’s a way to say to people, ‘Look, you don’t need to take us too seriously.’”
For a clientele not always sure of a warm welcome for animals in public places, the chance to be among other pet owners can be a valuable time – even more so for their companions.
“The dogs mostly stay home; a lot of places don’t let them in,” Rob Shawley said after instructing his dog, Mac, to sit, stay and lie down. “It’s hard to get a lot of dogs together, except maybe at Alston Park, and the dogs are a bit … difficult there,” he added wryly. “It’s nice for them to be able to socialize here.”
“It’s unique, but it’s also part of the reason I moved to Yountville 18 years ago, because it’s such a dog-friendly place,” said Toni Wilson, a Dog Bar regular along with her pet Hudson, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel whose wide eyes and curly black-white-tan coat appeared to melt the heart of nearly every human on the Lucy patio.
Any company seemed welcome to Hudson: the men and women stroking its fur, or the pooches circling his hindquarters. Even the guest list’s oddest entry – Mr. Moo, a bristly pig brought in by Jameson Rescue Ranch organizers to promote the planned animal sanctuary – grabbed Hudson’s curiosity.
“He’s been great with people, great with the other dogs – even was good with that pig!” Wilson said. “He’s a lover of being loved, that’s for sure.”
As Wilson spoke, Hudson strolled to guest after guest, working the patio like a seasoned party host: a people person who just happened to be a dog.