Bacon ice-cream and livers on toast: Sydney's post-pandemic rise of dog-friendly dining

Jarrod Scanlon with his border collie Nahla and Luba Harris with her French bulldog Boy at the Illinois Hotel in Five ...
Jarrod Scanlon with his border collie Nahla and Luba Harris with her French bulldog Boy at the Illinois Hotel in Five Dock, which became dog-friendly this week. Photo: Edwina Pickles

For Sydneysiders fond of a pint with their pooch, there has been at least one silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic: a rapid increase in the number of dog-friendly pubs. Not to mention more pup-loving cafes, hotels, breweries and cellar doors.

"It's just terrific to take your dog for a Sunday arvo walk and a couple of schooners," says publican and former Wallaby prop Bill Young. "And our family labrador, Cosmo, loves the experience of hanging out in a beer garden."

Young bought Five Dock's Illinois Hotel strip club in 2020 and relaunched the seedy boozer as a family-friendly venue last month. On Wednesday, the Parramatta Road pub became dog-friendly too, welcoming pooches to its outdoor area for the first time and providing water bowls. 

A four-legged guest enjoys vegetable terrine from QT Hotels' in-room dog menu.
A four-legged guest enjoys vegetable terrine from QT Hotels' in-room dog menu. Photo: Supplied

"Pets play a big part in people's lives, and the beer garden is a nice big space that's great for dogs," says Young. "It just made sense to make it pup-friendly. We also really want to move away from what some people might remember about the Illinois."

According to the latest Animal Medicines Australia report, Australia has one of the highest pet ownership rates in the world, with around 40 per cent of households including at least one dog in 2019. PetRescue and the RSPCA have also reported that the number of Australians adopting and fostering pets exploded during COVID-19 lockdowns.

"For many dog owners today, their pup is an equal member of the family," says Tommi Nordstrom, co-founder of online platform Pupsy which launched in 2018 for dog owners to find, book and review canine-friendly places and services. 

Wayward Brewing Co founder Peter Philip enjoys a pint with Quila the Jack Russell.
Wayward Brewing Co founder Peter Philip enjoys a pint with Quila the Jack Russell. Photo: Wolter Peeters

"People want to include their dogs in their social lives, whether that's at the pub on a Tuesday or a winery on the weekend. With more people getting a dog through COVID, that's certainly contributed to a rise in dog-friendly venues around the country." 

More publicans are also realising there's a financial benefit to becoming dog-friendly, says Nordstrom.

"Pub owners tell us that dog owners are fantastic customers. They often visit during a pub's quieter hours such as early afternoon, and publicans are recognising the opportunity to attract more people throughout the day. Dog owners are fiercely loyal too. Once they find a pub or cafe where they're comfortable, they keep going back."

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Solotel hospitality group now has 12 pubs promoted as dog-friendly within its portfolio, including the Golden Sheaf in Double Bay and Willoughby's Bridgeview Hotel.

"We're lucky we have a lot of outdoor space across our venues so it makes accommodating dogs that much easier," says Solotel's chief operating officer Ben Stephens.

"It's also the little things to show that dogs are accommodated, such as water bowls around the venue and giving out occasional treats behind the bar. 

Dog-friendly Earlwood cafe Frank & Chitch.
Dog-friendly Earlwood cafe Frank & Chitch. Photo: Janie Barrett

"We generally don't serve dog meals, but the Sackville in Rozelle has a very special doggo guest called Chip who celebrates his birthday each year with a chef-grilled and hand-cut steak served in his own bowl. Sometimes we make an exception."

There are no regulations against pooches in outdoor areas, but under state legislation dogs are technically not allowed indoors where food is served and consumed.

"That's one reason why a lot of breweries and now wineries are becoming dog-friendly inside – quite often they're only serving drinks," says Nordstrom, noting it's the job of local government to enforce the no-dogs-in-a-dining-room law. "Some councils are more relaxed about this than others."

Indeed, cafe owner Nick Retsas received two council warnings for having dogs inside his Redfern coffee shop Bean Haus. Restas opened dog-friendly Earlwood cafe Frank & Chitch in November and says he is yet to receive any complaints for canines holding court indoors.

"Of course, some people don't want a dog near them when they eat, in which case they politely ask to be moved," says Retsas. "I think dog-friendly cafes are pretty much the norm now. Dogs add to the atmosphere while also providing a place for their owners to hang out besides the park."

Nordstrom says there is also increased demand for doggo-friendly accommodation. 

"Because everybody is travelling locally, and there are more dogs than ever before in Australia, we're now seeing more hotels offer deals for people and their pets."

Chippendale's Old Clare Hotel began offering pet-friendly suites complete with plush toys last year, while QT Hotels and Resorts launched its "Pup Yeah" promotion in September. 

At QT's luxe locations in Bondi and the CBD, guests can now book a "doggo indulgence" package for their pooch, featuring a room-service menu with bone marrow risotto, liver on toast, and a bacon ice-cream sandwich.

"Our chefs put a lot of thought into our in-room dining offering to cater for pups of all tastes and dietaries," says QT general manager Callum Kennedy. "My black lab Haggis has always had a raw diet, something I'm very passionate about, so we included a range of menu options to suit."

"We've also partnered with local doggy day spas across the country to pamper your fur-friend while on holiday. There are blueberry facials, mud masks and even pawdicures."

Five of Sydney's most dog-friendly venues

Albion Hotel 135 George Street, Parramatta

A massive beer garden at Parramatta's busiest pub welcomes all dogs great and small provided they vacate by 8pm. The Alby's annual Puppy Pawdy is also scheduled for April 10, featuring groomers, pet stalls, and competitions to support rescue dog organisations.

The Carrington 565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills

Sydney's most popular pub for dog owners for the past five years, largely due to its street-side seating and dog-only dishes such as beef tartare and steak with veggies. 

Darlo Bar 306 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst

The Darlo loves dogs as much as it loves craft beer and parties, and features a "pup wall of fame" behind the bar. Four-legged visitors on April 4 are encouraged to participate in the Darlo Doggos Easter Pawrade, set to include prizes for best-dressed pooch and a (non-chocolate) egg hunt.

Frank & Chitch 2-4 Barnes Avenue, Earlwood

This handsome corner cafe serves more than 50 house-made dog biscuits and birthday cakes a week, starring flavours such as carob and liver, and peanut butter and parmesan. Human housemates can enjoy a whopping fried chicken sandwich for their brunch instead. 

Wayward Brewing Co. 1 Gehrig Lane, Camperdown

Myriad Sydney breweries are dog-friendly, but only one has a line of clothing for its furry patrons. What dog wouldn't love a Wayward neckerchief, hoodie or collar? The beer is bloody great too.