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wags - The Dog Bar

  By: AJ Mistretts

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The Dog Bar

Question: Where do the Mastiffs of Miami and the Springer Spaniels of South Beach go to unwind?

Answer: The Dog Bar of course.

After a long day chasing Frisbees and sunning on the beaches of south
Florida a dog can find a haven where the toys are stacked to the rafters,
the barstools are made just for them and the meals are finally real meat!

Steven Cohen and his wife Michele actually met while walking their dogs, and after an interesting conversation, the two began dating. He was in the leather business and she was a human nutritionist, but one problem kept bugging the couple: where to find good products for their dogs.

"We had certain expectations for what we used on our dogs and we just
couldnıt find things we liked," Cohen says. "We decided we would make the things we wanted ourselves and we would give people something they had never seen before, a sort of Neiman Marcus for dogs."

So in 1996 the Cohens quit their jobs and started the Dog Bar in a small
400-square-foot space in Miami Beach.

Developing the business in Miami made sense for the couple because of the abundance of pet-conscious residents in the area.

"This is a very dog-friendly city and dogs are a part of the family down here. People go out to eat dinner at cafes with their dogs and then they meander around with their dogs. We sort of gave them a place to go."

The space they began with was a tight fit, Cohen says, but they made it work by going vertical with what they couldn't fit on the floor.

"What we lacked in square footage we made up for in the height of the ceilings so we just started stacking," he says. "If you wanted a dog bed you had to climb a ladder to get it. But things were practically falling on people's heads so we knew we wanted to move when we could."

Three years after they opened the store, the Cohens found a great shell of a building in the middle of one of the busiest shopping districts in the country. Lincoln Road is famous for its quaint sidewalk cafes, exclusive art galleries and unique specialty boutiques. The Cohens moved the Dog Bar into a 20,000-square foot-space just off the main road. With the space they wanted finally in hand, the couple went to work making every idea they had for the shop a reality.

"Everything handcrafted, everything different, nothing traditional," were the words they lived by when developing the store
says Cohen.

To start off they put in a concrete floor to make sure people knew their pups were welcome. Next unique fixtures were created for every area of the shop, right down to the dogs head handles on the cabinet doors. When customers enter the Dog Bar, many say they feel as though they are entering an upscale department store for the canine set. The 2 1/2 story high ceilings give the shop a very open and inviting feeling. There are home furnishings like dog sofas and chairs, clothing for the fashion conscious pups including sweaters and bikinis, and toys that even humans find entertaining.

"We've marketed ourselves as sort of the anti-Petsmart," Cohen says. "You're not going to find regular everyday things here, but very unique very original items that really spark the customer's interest and most importantly the dog's interest."

In the rear of the store is the bar itself lined with ten doggie stools. Here dogs, and cats too, can get everything from gourmet treats to holistically balanced meals. That balance is important for healthy animals, but even more so for those that have become ill. Holistic therapy is a big part of the Dog Barıs mission. Cohen says the nutritional approach the shop takes to disease has helped heal or prolong the lives of over one-hundred through the years.

"It's about cleansing the dog's system holistically, getting them off the meds and looking at proper nutrition as a way to stay healthy."Cohen stresses he's not knocking the work of veterinarians, but when medicine has tried everything possible and the animal is still going downhill, owners should consider other avenues.

"When your dog is ill you have to look at the root of the problem, not just the symptoms. Making the animal whole again, thatıs the objective," Cohen says.

Cohen believes the pet food industry has been at the lower end of the quality spectrum for ears, and thatıs why he says many dogs do not have nutritional balance necessary to fend off illness. As creatures of nature dogs need meat to be healthy not a bag of corn or rice, he says. And raw meat is the essential element in the Dog Barıs holistic approach. The shop keeps a freezer full of various meats including duck and rabbit behind the bar for customers to purchase and bring home or have served to their dog right at the bar. Seminars on holistic treatment and nutritional health are a staple at the Dog Bar and are given regularly by holistic-minded veterinarians and vendors.

The Dog Bar also has its own art gallery inside the shop that exhibits and sells works by artists from all over the country. All of the artwork is original and deals with animal themes, and some of the artists whoıs work is on display can be commissioned to create pet portraits or other works for customers. An up-to-date calendar of shows is available on the shop's website under the gallery heading. But itıs not all fun and games at the Dog Bar, Cohen says. Itıs a long, 7-day, 50-hour work week with an open door to the general public that can sometimes be stressful.

"This is Miami Beach and we have a lot of affluent and eccentric people that come through our door with their dogs. It's always something different," he says with a knowing laugh.

The never-sleep nature of the town is also why the Dog Bar stays open through until 10 p.m. in the evening. People like to go out even during the week and they like to be able to get what they want when they want it, Cohen says. Unlike other beach communities where summer is tourist season, Miamiıs peak tourism period is in winter and that means the Dog Bar relies primarily on local business during the summer and tourists from the holidays through spring.

Cohen says keeping up with the full service aspect of the business is another challenge. The Dog Bar delivers products by car within a 50-mile radius and ships anywhere in the world. Cohen says since a lot of the shop's customers are tourists, they sometimes want things like treats and meals shipped to them on a regular basis. He says the company has shipped to a number of cities in Europe including Paris and has even sent products as far away as Saudi Arabia. Cohen says the Dog Bar will soon be opening a second location in Coral Gables just outside Miami, and by next year, he hopes to begin expanding into other cities.

"We want to be in New Orleans, New York, Boston; everywhere there's a heavy concentration of people with animals, we're going to be there," he says. But even if the Dog Bar isn't coming to your area, you can still visit the store online and be part of the fun. At youıll find an ever-changing site thatıs chock full of all the cool stuff thatıs available at the shop.

Photographs by Cami Johnson,