With business travel curtailed, Sam and Allison Mattiola of Kensington viewed the start of the pandemic in spring 2020 as a time to hit pause on their fast-paced health-care careers.
“We always wanted a dog,” said Sam Mattiola, 30. “We said to each other, ‘This is our chance. We’ll get a dog and then within two weeks, the world’s going to go back to normal, the dog will be trained up, and life’s going to be good.’ And of course, neither of those two things were true.”
Like many other people, they took stock of their goals. Family members, hearing story after story about Buda, their new Bernedoodle, mentioned the concept of bar-restaurants with dog parks. They idea was taking off particularly in the South, where occupancy restrictions in 2020 and 2021 were more relaxed.
The Mattiolas warmed to the idea of creating a side business to cater to the community — and they decided to hit paws as they hit pause.
Last week, they started fitting out the Boozy Mutt on the former site of the North Star Bar at 27th and Poplar Streets in the city’s Fairmount section, planning to open in spring or summer 2023. The North Star, a gritty bastion of rock-and-roll for 34 years, closed in 2015. It’s been unoccupied since, though one potential tenant had stripped it down to its bare walls and floors in anticipation of a project that went nowhere.
The Boozy Mutt will join a dog-friendly bar-restaurant called Bark Social, which plans to break ground Nov. 19 at 3720 Main St. in Manayunk for an early 2023 opening. Bark Social has locations in Bethesda and Baltimore and is planning a fourth location for 2024 in Los Angeles.
Sam Mattiola said the Boozy Mutt would solve for what they found were “the challenges that come with owning a dog in the city. Say it’s raining out. I still have to take him for a walk, and there’s not many parks available, and if there are, there are certain drawbacks to each of them, whether it’s they have trash or they’re dirty, and I got to give them a bath or whatever else. There’s a chance to make this so much more fun for both people and the dogs, to give them the opportunity to be around and socialize and not just be left at home.”
“During quarantine, we were bringing cases of beer to dog parks,” said Allison Mattiola, 29. “Why not make this a real thing?”
The Mattiolas have been working with the city Health Department on the setup since this is largely unfamiliar territory. “A lot of the flow of the building is to make sure that we’re keeping everyone safe,” Allison Mattiola said. “Not only the dogs from possibly getting into something they shouldn’t, but also the humans from contaminants.”
Among the amenities will be a self-service dog-wash station and a boutique. Although toys will be sold, dogs cannot use them at the Boozy Mutt to minimize the risk of fights. Staff members, known as “rufferies,” will keep an eye on the proceedings. Dogs will be off-leash.
Dog-watching was an interesting part of their research, visiting similar bars in the South. “We have a picture of [Allison] and just someone was dumping a golden retriever puppy in her lap,” Sam Mattiola said. “We’re like, ‘Whose dog is this?’ I want to stress the intermingling throughout the place.”
They are interviewing chefs to create what Sam Mattiola calls “human-grade dog treats,” plus a bar menu for people that will have a healthful side. “We hope that we have members and guests who come here two or three times a week, and we want to make sure that if you eat here, you feel good about yourself when you go here that frequently,” he said.
They said they are trying to find a way to keep the North Star name out there. “One of the most fun parts so far has been meeting the neighbors and them telling us all the great stories that they’ve had here,” Allison Mattiola said.
Somehow, they resisted naming the place “North Star Bark.”