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Bark Bar opens for drinkers, best friends

It's off the leash.

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The Bark Bar, 1201 S. Spring St., is a dog park and a bar, where you can take your dog for varying prices: $5 for a day pass, $20 for a month pass, $150 for a year pass.

Located in a formerly vacant two-story church, Bark Bar extends over two lots. It is part of an increasing tonal and geographic expansion in businesses south of Interstate 630.

On the spectrum of millennial bar, Bark Bar places itself in the exposed brick and Instagram-friendly world: More Mylo Coffee Co. than The White Water Tavern. All the tables are wooden, and there is a TV that shows just photos of dogs.

It is decidedly friendly.

The dog park features a gravel area surrounding a small patch of grass littered with bright, pastel-colored objects. There's an agility course of colored tires buried in the ground, yellow lawn chairs and a canopy of kite-like cloth.

The bar and dog park are open 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. It seems to be most popular when the sun is out.

For $75, you can get a framed photo of your dog on the wall, one of dozens surrounding the Bark Bar logo. This logo, which contains the words "Little Rock" and "Bark Bar" surrounding a crossed bone and champagne flute, is on the beer Koozies for $2, T-shirts with pun-like phrases ("Butt sniffing tolerated, use your judgment," "Heavy petting encouraged," "Sit. Stay. Drink.") for $24.95, and various other items, including dog toys, sold in the small gift shop at the front of the bar.

There are two hip-level wooden gates at the entrance to the bar area. You need to check in your pet before. You need to read the 20-plus rules for your dog (and yourself). Your dog must be vaccinated. Humans can't smoke (this is bolded). Dogs can't be unruly or "in heat" or bite someone; "you are responsible" (also bolded). You must maintain eyesight on your dog. You need to clean up your dog's excrement. Maximum of three dogs per person, etc.

Once through the check-in, you can enter and let the beast free.

Your dog will be greeted by other dogs. Your dog will begin to bark and the other dogs respond in kind. Because the indoor area is two open stories — with an upper mezzanine — all the dogs' barks will slightly echo. This scares them. They will bark again. Then they all run outside to the pastel park.

You can then grab a drink for about $6. Or some food. Bark Bar serves — what else? — hot dogs. All are listed on a blackboard at a counter where you order. The grub is named for dogs, so you've got items like the Schnauzer or the Red Rocket, for around $6. The beer comes in a plastic cup (no glass is allowed so as to not hurt the dogs).

At this point, likely, you've lost eye contact with your dog. And, also likely, your dog is not behaving as well as you think because you mostly interact with her or him in the hyper-controlled setting of your home. Some things I saw dogs do while their owners tried to order food or a drink: poop, bark at nothing, jump on another dog, run into a human's leg, bark at a human, jump on a human, be involved in a massive five-dog scrum that began when one tried to sniff a butt.

You'll probably turn around and see your dog doing something embarrassing and go over to the dog and say something like, "Come on DOG NAME, are you being good?" Two owners will do this at once. They will meet. They begin chatting ("What's y'all's dog's name?" and "He's cute!"). It's a good way to become acquainted with a stranger.

Dogs are good at intruding in adorable ways. For example, one dog stood upon a wooden picnic table outside as a woman worked on her laptop. Others barked at people trying to talk. The people looked down and smiled. A place like Bark Bar makes owners to want to photograph their dogs: We saw Instagram posts of lovable beasts (the beer placed into the frame, too) in the outdoor area of the bar, after the 12-plus times the owner had to yell the dog's name to get the picture.

This sentimental annoyance is the promise of Bark Bar, of drinking with a dog or owning a dog. They are a burden and a treat.

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