A dog and a man walk into a bar. Bartender says, “You can’t bring animals in here.” The man says, “But he’s no ordinary dog. He talks.” The man turns to his dog and says, “What’s on top of a house?” The dog says, “Roof!” The man says, “What’s on the outside of a tree?” The dog says, “Bark!” The man says, “Who’s the greatest baseball player of all time?” “Ruth!” The bartender throws them out. As soon as they’re on the street, the dog says, “Do you think I should have said DiMaggio?”
People have been telling “A dog walks into a bar” stories since the dawn of time. Historical records from the University of Oxford include this 5000-year-old Sumerian joke: “A dog walked into a tavern and said, “I can’t see a thing. I’ll open this one.” Apparently that was a real thigh-slapper back in BC, but modern scholars continue to scratch their heads, and social media is full of half-baked explanations like, “It’s obvious the dog had his eyes closed,” or “There’s a pun in there somewhere, if only we spoke ancient Sumerian,” or “Must be a bawdy joke because they were wearing togas.” Huh?
My point is: dogs have been hanging out in bars with humans ever since alcohol was invented 9000 years ago. Twentieth century laws banned Bowser from the boozer on the basis of health and safety, but experts now say that's unnecessary. Healthy, vaccinated, well-behaved dogs, says veterinarian Eva Evens, “pose an extremely low risk to human health.” Today, thanks to California’s 2014 “canine dining law,” dogs are allowed in outdoor eating areas and some indoor settings, depending on the proprietor’s preferences and your pet’s ability to stay out of trouble. This is great news, because painting the town red can be a lot more fun when you bring along your best friend.
And that goes double when you’re headed to a roadhouse. On Sunday, as part of my selfless research on behalf of my readers, I went to 7 Mile House, an 1858 roadhouse that has won the Best Dog-Friendly Restaurant award for the past five years in a row. There Rich and I met up with — oh wait, let me set this up properly. My brother, his wife, and their dog walk into a bar … and we all had lunch on the terrace, surrounded by other dogs and their human companions.
I was having so much fun meeting dogs that it was hard to settle down and concentrate on the food. When I did, it was clear why this place was famous for such Filipino specialties as adobo (marinated pork) and lumpia (crisp-fried spring roll). My brother Mike briefly considered the Cow Palace burger, an entire pound of Angus beef plus bacon and a staggering list of other trimmings, but he was put off by the menu’s warning, “Dare to eat this only if you’re so hungry you could eat a cow!” He wisely opted for the half-pounder instead.
No one was surprised that Deb and Mike’s French poodle, Django, barely nibbled at the beef patty from the dog menu; advanced years and missing teeth make him a notoriously delicate eater. So you can imagine our amazement when Django sniffed the doggie lumpia then leapt on it like a wolf, gobbling three rolls and making sure his humans took the rest home for later.
The conversation turned to what makes a proper roadhouse. We agreed these roadside eateries are distinguished by stellar food — far better than you’d find at a typical diner or bar — and a dog-friendly attitude. I would also add a hint of danger from a slightly disreputable past (or present).
The 7 Mile House began innocently enough as a toll house where drivers paid a toll and watered the horses. With the addition of a barroom and bedrooms, word went around it had become a brothel. An illegal poolroom in the 1890s launched its career as a gambling den, and I think we can all guess what kind of hijinks went on during Prohibition. In the 1970s the owner was arrested by the FBI for being the top bagman under Ron “The Cigar” Sacco, the most successful bookmaker in history. It goes on and on. I couldn’t make this stuff up.
The 7 Mile House was a biker gang hangout when Vanessa Garcia took over in 2004, and with the help of her family she’s now made the place downright upright. But in the early days the cops were called out to restore order so often that she got to know them well. How well? She's marrying one of them later this year.
Not all taverns can boast that much colorful history, but Pengrove’s Twin Oaks Roadhouse scores points for longevity (it's nearing the century mark) and maintaining the Western rancher atmosphere. When I walk in, I’m always vaguely surprised not to find saloon doors swinging at the entry and a juke box playing the theme from The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Here the standing joke is: A three-legged dog walks into a saloon. He says to the bartender, “I’m lookin’ fer the man who shot my paw.”
Twin Oaks is a great place for lunch; the food is excellent, the service cheerful, and the atmosphere so sleepy it’s practically a siesta. Happy Hour starts at 2 pm (!), so about the time I'm heading out the serious barflies are trickling in. I’ve heard the place can get rowdy at night; last summer there was a fracas in the parking lot ending in a broken nose and lots of conflicting testimony. But so far I’ve missed all the action.
Rich and I visited another fabulous roadside eatery this week but regretfully decided Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café is not technically a roadhouse. Good food? Check. Dog-friendly? Check. Seedy barroom atmosphere? Decidedly lacking. Still, this quirky, engaging spot is well worth a visit.
These days lots of taverns and roadhouses feature Yappy Hour with "puptails" such as Barkaritas, CharDOGnay, and Bow Wow Bubbly. Some provide off-leash runs overseen by a “wooferee.” Temptations include desserts like the Poochini, a peanut butter sundae with dog biscuits. Yes, it’s all silly indulgence, but why not, once in a while? Dogs never turn down a chance to party. Their joy is contagious and if we’re lucky we’ll catch it again and again.
Animal behaviorist Patricia B. McConnell says, “That is what dogs and their emotions give us — a connection. A connection to life on earth, to all that binds and cradles us, lest we begin to feel too alone. Dogs are our bridge — our connection to who we really are, and most tellingly, who we want to be.” She adds, “I invite all of you to show our own species the same patience and compassion that we show dogs. After all, dogs seem to like us a lot, and I have the utmost respect for their opinion.”
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