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Bars dealt different fates in dogged pursuit

A tale of dog-friendly bars in Denver


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The Watering Bowl on Leetsdale Drive in Southeast Denver is a place where dogs are free to romp outside on a 9,000-square-foot turf play area while their owners sip beer and eat pizza or wings.

Plenty of bars in Denver allow leashed dogs on their patios, but brothers Justin and Jerad Henry envisioned something grander when they opened the Watering Bowl in November 2013 on a property that includes a large A-frame building previously used for auctioning antiques. They aptly dubbed the place – the outside, anyway – “Your Best Friend’s Bar,” and it’s an apt moniker.

Denver regularly ranks high for both dog-friendliness and singles. Some theorize – at least I do – that these two qualities go hand-in-hand, that single people tend to own dogs for companionship and as aids to help them meet other singles.

As if to support this point, one Friday evening in early February that I stopped by the Watering Bowl to check out the outdoor dog area, a speed-dating event was unfolding inside the A-frame. About 30 singles engaged in a sort of musical chairs, getting to know each other in five-minute intervals before reshuffling into new pairings.

Most of the brothers’ early investment went toward the 5,000-square-foot inside where dogs aren’t allowed, including a massive 19-foot TV on one wall and an even more massive 26-footer on another.

By comparison, development of the outside has been piecemeal. The artificial turf for the dog park was once an actual football field and was bought used from Academy Sports Turf in Englewood. Two TVs were later added outside, including one in a heated, covered area where some patrons and their dogs gathered to watch the Super Bowl.

This is the first foray into the bar business for both brothers. Justin, 37, describes himself as coming from “corporate America – finance, accounting, credit, legal. Hospitality is something I’ve always wanted to do,” he says. Jerad, 40, has a background in marketing.

“We’ve been open now 14-15 months,” Justin Henry told me. “We’ve had zero problems. I know probably 60 percent of our regulars on a first-name basis. It’s a small, dysfunctional family. We love our customers and they like us.

“Most properties don’t lend themselves to something like this,” he added.

That’s an important point, because a similarly conceived establishment – the Bark Bar on 38th Avenue in the Highlands – was forced to close in mid-January after about a year in business.

Complaints of noise and litter by nearby residents prompted the City of Denver to take action and ultimately rule that the off-leash dog yard was in violation of city codes, but not before the Bark Bar racked up $25,000 in legal fees trying to make its case. Now the owners are looking for a new site and have launched an online crowd-funding effort at gofundme.com/barkbar. As of early February they raised $4,745 to put toward those legal expenses.

Henry points out that he was a friend and supporter of the Bark Bar; in fact, he and others from the Watering Bowl attended the Bark Bar’s farewell event on Jan. 15.

But there are crucial differences in the two locales that caused one to close its doors and the other to remain. Both are located in Denver County, but while the Bark Bar pushed up against Highland residences, the Watering Bowl is 300 feet from the nearest residential building and is zoned for commercial/light industrial uses.

Still, Justin Henry says, “Being the tip of the spear on a new concept, you catch every negative, every roadblock, every hurdle. If it hasn’t been done before, you’re going to face obstacles.

“Our biggest challenge is keeping everybody happy,” he continues. “We didn’t have TVs outside for months and months. Now we’ve got two of them, and we’re bringing in a third one this summer. If you don’t have football on TV on a Sunday, you’re done.”

Wise words from a determined underdog.

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Mike Taylor

Mike Taylor is the editor of ColoradoBiz magazine. Email him at mtaylor@cobizmag.com.

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