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Thursday, June 13, 2024

#DrinkWithYourBestFriend: Outdoor dog bar barks up a storm in downtown

Lebowski’s Pet Pub opened Friday

Lebowski's Pup Pub is seen on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.
Lebowski's Pup Pub is seen on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021.

#DrinkWithYourBestFriend: Outdoor dog bar barks up a storm in downtown 

Lebowski’s Pet Pub opened Friday

Drinking beer alongside man’s best friend — for a new Gainesville bar, that’s a winning combination.

Lebowski’s Pet Pub, an outdoor bar and subscription-only dog park hybrid located at 514 N Main St., opened its gates Dec. 3 with a launch party. With a mural of owner Geno Schmelke’s three dogs wearing sunglasses — and Lebowski, a boxer vizsla mix, as the centerpiece — the bar is ready to be a hangout space for dogs and humans alike.

Schmelke, 37, said he’s always dreamt of having a bar to call his own. A graduate of Gainesville High School, he said he’s been bartending for over a decade, shuffling through bars along University Avenue in Midtown and downtown. 

After going to a similar bar in St. Petersburg called The Dog Bar, the longtime Gainesville resident knew instantly it would be a hit in a college town.

“It’s like you’re going into your backyard with your friends,” Schmelke said. “Bringing your dog and just having a good time. It's nothing crazy.” 

Customers are charged a fee to bring their dog to the bar. Subscription rates range from $5 for a day pass to $100 for a full year — about $8 a month.

The staff is made up of some of his lifelong friends, he said, all of whom have more than a lifetime of bartending experience between them.

Although it’s open to anyone over 18, Schmelke doesn’t envision Lebowski’s like a typical college town bar catered to students. 

“We’re not really the college bar,” he said. “We're not really an old person's bar. I think it's just people that just want to hang out and relax.” 

Before opening Friday, Schmelke said the staff hosted a soft opening Nov. 28 with one purpose: raising money for a friend’s dog in need of bladder surgery. 

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Giving back to the community is a must, he said. He’s currently ironing out the details to host adoption events with organizations like the North Central Florida Humane Society and Camp Run-A-Mutt.

“We just want to have fun and be happy about where we're working,” Schmelke said.

Shael Morgan, a 52-year-old Gainesville resident, said she appreciates the owners’ giving spirit.

“I would be less likely to go to a business that is interested in just perpetuating themselves instead of trying to give back to the community and helping others,” she said.

Morgan said she’s going to subscribe to bring her dogs to support the staff. It’s important to her family to support the business because her husband worked with one of the owners at SharpSpring, a marketing company.

Lebowski’s will likely be a hit among both college students and Gainesville residents, Morgan said.

“Gainesville is such an outdoorsy place these days,” she said. “Maybe [college students] will miss their pets, that they might have had to leave at home with their parents. They'll go to the dog bar just to pet other people's dogs.”

The bar is now open on weekdays from 2 p.m. to midnight and on weekends from 1 p.m. to midnight.

Contact Alan at Follow him on Twitter @AlanHalaly.

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Alan Halaly

Alan Halaly is a third-year journalism major and the Spring 2023 Editor-in-Chief of The Alligator. He's previously served as Engagement Managing Editor, Metro Editor and Photo Editor. Alan has also held internships with the Miami New Times and The Daily Beast, and spent his first two semesters in college on The Alligator’s Metro desk covering city and county affairs. 

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