Baltimore now has its first ever social club for dogs.
The 15,000-square-foot hybrid indoor-outdoor space in Canton caters to humans as a sports bar, beer garden and café with a full menu of local food partners—and to dogs as a dog park to meet and socialize with other canines.
But unlike a traditional dog park, at Bark Social, you don’t have to watch your dogs.
Their trained “bark rangers” will be “picking up poop, breaking up fights—so you can kind of relax,” says Jeff Kurtzman, the CFO and one-half of the duo behind the concept.
The bar opened May 6 on Boston Street across from Canton Crossing, only 14 months after a successful run at its first location in Bethesda.
The idea stemmed from a seed planted about 3 ½ years ago in 2019.
After his now-wife adopted a dog, Luke Silverman found himself introduced to the dog bar concept in Austin, Texas, and fell in love with it. He traded creative ideas with the owner, and a week later, he phoned Kurtzman—a family friend he had known for about a decade who grew up in Ellicott City and now had roots in Baltimore.
Both burnt out on corporate and investment jobs, they were ready for a new adventure. Silverman thought they could elevate the concept of a dog bar even further.
“Our staff doesn’t think of dogs as dogs. They think of dogs as humans, and I think that’s a fundamental shift for us,” says Silverman, the co-founder and CEO.
With a generation much more attached to their dogs, it makes sense to look at dogs as customers, too. Unlike other dog bars Silverman and Kurtzman researched throughout the country, their business is the only one where dogs are the members.
It’s great for dog lovers because you don’t need a dog to enter, Silverman adds. Humans always enter for free.
Dogs can either enter with a day pass, or their humans can purchase them a monthly or annual membership provided the animals are vaccinated and spayed or neutered if more than 12 months old.
Bark Social is meant to be a fluid come-and-go space. Human guests can come for a morning coffee, let their dogs run for 20 minutes and catch up on emails. Then, maybe they come back for lunch and get some work done or return in the evening to meet friends.
The goal, Silverman says, is to have a comfortable space where you never have to ask, “Can I bring my dog?”
Older port cities were not built with that accessibility, he says. According to Thrillist, Baltimore was named one of the least dog-friendly cities in 2017. It made the list again in 2019, Patch reports. Canton is very dense and walkable, and the goal is to bring more options for dog owners to these types of spaces, Silverman adds.
Apart from its main concept, Bark Social also has a huge focus on local partnering, creating a communal space and philanthropy.
Its menu of finger foods draws from locally owned eateries such as female-owned Grateful Pizza, Sunflower and Kupcake and Co. Dogs get their section, too, with “A Good Boy Dog Beer” and Bark Social treats such as sweet potato chips and chicken strips.
The 20 beers on tap at the beer wall are almost exclusively from Baltimore or the DMV. Wine and coffee are also on the menu, with liquor added in a couple months.
Locals Younts Design provided branding, and Greg Gannon the painted signs. Bark Social’s attached retail store has its line of branded ice cream and treats, along with merch made by Art Related and apparel printed in Baltimore.
Since Bark Social is a unique space with a wide regional draw, Kurtzman and Silverman know they have an opportunity to be a platform for local nonprofits.
The two regularly partner with BARCS and Dogs of Charm City and have an in-house nonprofit named after Silverman’s dog, Frankie Cares, that chooses a different nonprofit to support one to two times per week.
“I want the company that we’re building to actually make a difference, as corny as it sounds, and to not just do it just to say we did it,” says Kurtzman, who started Better World Books in 2002 and was one of the founding members of B Corp.
Above all, he and Silverman want Bark Social to be a safe, inclusive space—that means implementing safety measures, too. Bark rangers are trained to distinguish between excited and aggressive dogs. Small dogs have a separate space, and you can’t run and chase dogs. You have to let them come to you.
But don’t worry, “99.9% of the dogs will want to come up to you,” Silverman says.
Dogs are allowed on furniture, and bar tables are all four-tops so people can mingle. The space is meant to foster community. Special events such as last year’s fall festival in Bethesda also create bonding experiences such as eating an apple cider doughnut off a string with your dog.
They wanted to merge some of the fun of a Baltimore block party with their flavor of youthful and cheeky and overall create a happy place.
“Dogs are happiness to a lot of people, and I didn’t see any brands that kind of merged the two,” Silverman says.
That spills into their retail store as well. A team with previous experience in Target and Anthropologie helped lay out a fun, interactive experience, including floor-level face cutouts for a dog and human photo-op.
With two locations under their belt, Kurtzman and Silverman are looking to expand further.
Bethesda was an experiment to see if the concept worked. In Baltimore, they were able to improve it with turf, a more comfortable space for all seasons and better tech, furniture and lighting.
With the recent buzz, Silverman says people are constantly asking them to add a location in their city.
A few more locations are in the works, he says, and their fourth—which will be on the I-95 corridor—might actually be the coolest location for a dog park in the entire country.
“Number four will literally make people go crazy,” he says.