Bark Social in Eater DC, March 2021

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

by Tierney Plumb for Eater DC on Mar 1, 2021

A sprawling dog park that boasts its own cafe and bar opened in North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose complex over the weekend, giving pet lovers a place to drink Maryland beers and snack on pizza, pretzels, and empanadas while their animals get some exercise.

Bark Social (935 Prose Street) covers 25,000 square feet, including a mulch dog run supervised by “bark rangers,” a beer garden, and bars built into converted shipping containers. The mostly outdoor setup includes patio seating and heat lamps. An indoor, climate-controlled “clubhouse” is the fanciest portion of the park, lined with Italian leather sofas and TVs. Rainbow-toned murals splashed on shipping containers spell out “good pups, full cups.”

Using the dog park costs $9.99 for a day pass. Memberships run $39.99 per month, or $284.99 for the year under an opening special. It opens daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Half of the taps are always dedicated to its Montgomery County breweries such as Denizens, Astro Lab, Waredaca. Houston-based Good Boy Brewing Company supplies nonalcoholic beer made for dogs in flavors like “Mailman Malt Licker.”

An all-day menu also includes espresso drinks from Annapolis roaster Ceremony, Bavarian pretzels as heavy as two pounds from Das Pretzel Haus, and muffins, scones, breakfast and lunch sandwiches from Fresh Baguette and Lil Cakes & Creamery. Frozen pizzas come from Union Kitchen’s EatPizza, and savory hand pies come from DC Empanadas. For dogs, there are chicken or beef “pupsicles” and “pup” cakes with peanut butter frosting from Gaithersburg’s family-owned Lil Cakes.

“If I can be surrounded by caffeine, alcohol, dogs, and people who love dogs, I would be happy, and I think and a lot of others would be too,” Bark Social founder Luke Silverman says, adding, “Everything we do is with dogs in mind.”

He’s not kidding. The job description for the park’s “bark rangers” includes picking up poop for occupied owners. Everything on the menu must be dog-safe — down to a carob syrup that goes into faux hot chocolate. Banned items include avocados, whole nuts, and glass, and there’s a no-chewing gum policy. Silverman’s pit bull mix, Frankie, is the bar’s official mascot.

For dog bar R&D, Silverman went on a nine-month road trip to check out 20 competitors. He didn’t think high-brow items like Pat LaFrieda burgers made sense for the business, but it was important to him to work with respected local vendors.

“A lot [of dog park bars] have a cheap and shitty espresso machine or use a Keurig,” Silverman says. “I was like, ‘This isn’t right.’”

Silverman ditched his career in medical tech to pursue the dog bar project with fellow entrepreneur Jeff Kurtzman. Silverman is a third-generation restaurateur, whose dad and uncle own a slew of respected bars and restaurants in NYC’s Union Square neighborhood.

General manager and The Wing alum Shana Steele curated the food and beer list. Assistant general manager Aviane Herbst, a board member of DMV Coffee and general manager at Swing’s Coffee, led development for a cafe menu. Bark Social uses a pricey brewing machine from Seattle-based Slayer Espresso. The Bark Social brand, however, doesn’t take itself seriously.

“If you’re going to come here in Louboutin heels that is fine, but you’re going to the park,” Silverman cautions. “You’re going to be walking on mulch.”

Regular events planned for the bar include dog yoga on weekends and ’80s nights that encourage mohawks and mullets for people and canines.

Silverman guesstimates that about half the people entering similar establishments don’t have a dog, and customers are welcome to show up solo at no extra charge. But “if you’re not a dog person you’re not going to like Bark Social,” he warns.

Bark Social in Eater DC, March 2021