Downtown Columbia is getting a Dog Bar. Bark Social will unleash a 25,000 square foot facility in 2024 in the triangular-shaped parking lot next to Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion at the corner of Merriweather Drive and Little Patuxent Parkway. The Baltimore Business Journal first reported the news on November 17 "Bark Social Dog Bar to open in Downtown Columbia."
A dog bar, as the name suggests, combines a dog park and a beer garden. It's a social club for dogs and their masters that includes a full-service bar and café within a fenced-in indoor/outdoor yard, so dogs are free to roam and exercise while humans enjoy food and beverage. Wi-Fi and a climate controlled clubhouse allow members to use the Internet or watch TV while employees, known as "bark rangers' help monitor dogs and scoop poop.
The Bark Social Website already has a coming soon website up for the Columbia location that includes a way to sign up to receive updates and information about becoming a founding member at a special discounted price.
Amenities coming to Columbia Bark Social include:
Free high-speed WiFi and TVs inside & out
Delicious food & drink menu for humans and for dogs
20+ craft beers, cocktails, seltzers, and wine
Self-serve dog baths
The menu for the Baltimore and Bethesda locations (linked in list above) includes local craft beers, seltzers, wine, cocktails and a full coffee and espresso bar. Human food items include baked goods and breakfast sandwiches, hand-rolled bavarian pretzels and other snacks, sandwiches and customizable loaded nachos or fries. Bone Appétit! The dog menu includes sweet potato chips, duck or beef treats, puppy ice cream and pupsicles. No menu items contain any items dangerous to dogs, such as avocados, chicken bones, nuts, or chocolate. Veterans and active military receive 10% off, always.
Membership at existing Bark Socials is approximately $10 per day, $40 per month, or $360 per year, so one can expect similar pricing when the Columbia location opens in 2024.
Business models similar to Bark Social are popping up all-over in cities across America, though Bark Social is one of the pioneers of the dog bar concept. It's first location is at Pike & Rose in North Bethesda, and after closing a $2 million funding round in early 2022 to fuel expansion, has recently opened in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore, and will be opening soon in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, in addition to Columbia.
COMMENTARY ON BARK SOCIAL AS PART OF DOWNTOWN COLUMBIA PLAN AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE COLUMBIA ASSOCATION
I've been excited about the prospect of Bark Social coming to Columbia ever since an article published early this year listed Columbia as a potential future location. And my own excitement was matched with community enthusiasm in comments when I shared the BBJ article breaking the news that it is coming to Downtown Columbia with a Facebook post.
The location of Bark Social could not be more ideal. It will be located in the center of Columbia a short walk away from many dog-friendly apartment buildings that otherwise lack a place to let dogs roam free and exercise. What is surprising to me is that Bark Social will be located on an otherwise developable parcel in a prime location owned by Howard Hughes Corporation. A dog park is certainly not the highest and best (i.e. most profitable) use for this land, but the enthusiasm around the announcement demonstrates the popularity of the concept. Given we are still in the early stages of the Downtown Columbia Master Plan in which Howard Hughes Corporation holds entitlements to add 14 million square feet of development to Downtown Columbia, I suspect that this property was not otherwise slated for development anytime soon as HHC focuses on developing other nearby parcels. Certainly, leasing the space to a concept as attractive as this makes HHC's other nearby properties even more appealing for current and future dog-loving tenants.
The only other dog park in Columbia is Columbia DogPark, owned and operated by the Columbia Association. Columbia DogPark is a more traditional dog park located approximately 2 miles away from the future home of Bark Social. While dog parks typically make the most sense in dense residential areas, Columbia DogPark is located in a much less dense neighborhood with relatively few nearby residential areas so most users arrive via car with their pup to play. Harper's Choice Village Center, Harper's Choice Middle School, the Columbia SportsPark, Hobbit Glen Golf Course, and Cedar Lane Park take up most of the land nearby the Columbia DogPark. While the Columbia Dogpark lacks the amenities that Bark Social will have, as a member and frequent user of the CA dog park myself, I can attest that its extremely well-maintained, busy especially at peak times, and HUGE! It's nearly 3 acres, which is 5x larger than Bark Social will be. Plus, it costs way less than Bark Social will. The CA dog park membership is $45 annually for residents of CA-assessed property or $100 for non-residents. I think CA's dog park will remain popular after Bark Social opens, especially for those who don't value the human-centric amenities that Bark Social is charging for, but I suspect Bark Social will pull some users away from Columbia DogPark, myself included, who live closer to it and whom value the extra amenities that Bark Social will offer.
All this highlights that the Columbia Association does not have a presence in Downtown Columbia, and for-profit entities are adding competing operations there instead. Should CA, as part of their long-term strategic plan, look to add faculties and amenities in the densest parts of Columbia? Or, is it content to allow the market to deliver, and not attempt to compete with for-profit companies that offer similar services? This also begs the question of whether CA should take inspiration from this trend of adding food and beverage service to places people regular frequent, like dog parks or pools, and consider whether that is a match for any of their own amenities/operations. Beer at pools? Maybe transform an underutilized CA pool into a swanky pool club?
FURTHER READING ON BARK SOCIAL / DOG BARS
Washingtonian Magazine: Dog Bars Are Booming in Washington - and More are on the Way: Bark Social and Barkhaus are both expanding, and new dog bars at nipping at their heels, May 5, 2022
Eater DC: A New Mulch-Lined Bar in North Bethesda Combines a Dog Park With a Beer Garden: Bark Social has a serious espresso program and a lineup of local Maryland beers to help dog owners kick back, March 1, 2021
Restaurant Hospitality: Dog Park Restaurants tap into $64 million pet industry: Running in packs: Concepts for dining with canine companions. February 23, 2019
585 Magazine: Dog parks and bars. Are they better together. July 21, 2021.