With more and more places letting you eat, drink and stay overnight with your four-legged friends, Kate Spicer, owner of Wolfy, couldn’t be more pleased.
Plaxy Locatelli, co-patron with her husband, Giorgio, of Locanda Locatelli, in London, is unequivocal: “It’s like people. We aren’t going to have anyone in the restaurant screaming, shouting and weeing everywhere, but well-behaved dogs, they’re welcome. I can’t understand why people get so funny about it. We’ve had humans in who are dirtier than the average dog. The English just need to stop being so bothered by other people and start opening up a bit.”
She is not alone. In recent years, more and more high-end hotels and dining rooms have started not just quietly letting in the odd regular customer’s lap dog, but vocally supporting the pleasures of a multi-species dining experience. The booking platform OpenTable announced last week that Google searches for dog-friendly restaurants have steadily risen over the past five years, and more than half of British dog owners say they would base a pub or restaurant choice on whether or not they could take their pet. The Locatellis spoke out about being a dog-friendly restaurant when they took ownership of Olive, a cockapoo, and realised how hard it was to eat out with their furry family member. Today Olive often snuffles round their famous David Collins-designed, Michelin-starred dining room, a favourite with everyone from the late Lucian Freud, to Madonna and Gwyneth. “We do have people complain sometimes when Olive is in the restaurant,” Plaxy says, “but as soon as they realise it’s Giorgio’s dog, they’re all over her, ‘Oh, isn’t she lovely …’”
Dogs sniff each other’s bottoms, but humans are the metaphorical arse lickers. And the rise of multi-species restaurants has gone hand in hand with a new form of human “petworking”, of using your canine companion to help you claw your way round the human zoo. George Lamb once catcalled me — OK, not me exactly. He hollered, “Nice dog,” as he cruised by, high up in a shiny Range Rover. On social media and in real life, my dog has brought me unprecedented attention and respect from people who wouldn’t normally look my way. This surprising side effect of dog ownership is something even beautiful people can relate to. The model and nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson and her artist husband, Jake Chapman, are currently on holiday in Mallorca with their two Staffies and one tiny dachshund. “Coming back to the same place for the second summer with the dogs, I can tell you that people definitely remember the dogs before us,” she says.
DOG OWNERS ARE A LARGE AND VISIBLE CLAN, AND INCREASINGLY IF YOU WANT TO GET AHEAD, YOU HAVE TO GET ONE
When I found out Chapman was devoted to his dogs, I dropped my suspicions that he was a cynical, black-hearted misanthrope. A dog, whether you want it to or not, says something. Dog owners are a large and visible clan, and increasingly if you want to get ahead, you have to get one.
“People with dogs are generally a wonderfully considerate breed of human,” says Jeremy King. “They have a greater sense of responsibility than a certain type of parent who thinks their child can do no wrong.”
King is known as the restaurateurs’ restaurateur for his popular grand brasseries including the Wolseley, Zedel and Bellanger (the latter is one of the most famous dog-friendly joints in town, with bespoke biccies and water bowls and its coveted Hounds of Bellanger hashtag, only bestowed upon the finest four-legged punters). “There is a universal comfort in dogs,” says the normally aloof King, while emailing me multiple pictures of his cockapoo, Teddy. “And they are the biggest conversational gambit. We are considering a house dog at the Beaumont [his Mayfair hotel], because when I am there with Teddy, the majority of guests will stop to pet him and talk. Where we have the space, we are as liberal and open-minded as possible. Restaurants are part of our lives these days and dogs are part of our families. The fact is, if you want regular locals, you have to let dogs in.”
Bubbledogs is another welcoming restaurant. Its chef-patron, Sandia Chang, says: “I’ve never met a not nice dog owner. We always wanted to let them in.” Last month they had an all-day doggy tea party. She’s also done pop-up dog restaurants and her own Jack Russell-Yorkie mix, Paxo (@paxoontour), is often sniffing about the Bubbledogs dining room. “At first I worried we would get too many, but it’s never more than two at a time. As a dog owner, I know it’s hard to leave your dog at home. I hunt through other dogs’ feeds on Instagram to find out where else we can take Paxo with us.”
“I’m genuinely shocked by the impact pet influencers are having on the world,” says Stella Clements, one of Insta star Dolly Pawton’s owners. “Pets are sought after for sponsorships and ads because, by their very nature, they are genuine clickbait. I think they are taking over.”
Dolly, a chihuahua, has an agent in America, and more than 83,000 followers. I found out about her when the spokesperson for the smart art-installation-cum-restaurant Sketch, boasted: “We’ve had a few celebrity dogs in like Dolly Pawton and Tuna Melts My Heart.” (That’s an actual “celebrity dogs”, not a celebrity’s dog.)
Tuna is a “chiweenie with a pronounced overbite” with almost 2m Instagram followers. He gives “pawtographs” everywhere he goes. His owner, Courtney Dasher, is based in LA but spends time in the UK: “the doggiest place we’ve ever been to — though I do hear Paris is even better. Daphne’s [Italian restaurant in South Kensington] threw a sixth birthday party for Tuna.”
As someone who takes their “beast friend” everywhere, as much for convenience as the superior company, I am prepared to admit I have some separation issues with my lurcher, Wolfy. But that’s another story and I am clearly in good company. At the Wigmore, near Oxford Circus, the manager, Jonathan Sharp, says: “When we opened there was no question whether we would welcome dogs. Some of our best customers come attached to a beast.”
I have watched the London restaurant landscape grow ever more dog-friendly, from cool hangouts such as Dinerama to the showbiz fave Chiltern Firehouse, where Ian Telford used to be the front-of-house manager. Telford remembers the late Carrie Fisher would let her constant companion, Gary, out of her room and he would waddle his way down to reception. Gary, a French bulldog, has a blue tick and 140,000 followers on Instagram as @garyfisher. “He’d just sit in the lobby, or one of the doormen would take him out for a walk,” Telford says. Gary also had a habit of disrupting the fragranced air of the Firehouse with nasty smells, “which wasn’t ideal. Still, Gary Fisher was everyone’s favourite guest.”
“As long as they are well-behaved, there is no downside to dogs,” says Telford, now the general manager at Blakes Hotel in South Kensington. “As soon as I arrived here, I allowed dogs. We wrote “pet- friendly” in small print on the website, and within 24 hours had bookings off the back of it. It immediately gives a more homely feeling, and dogs are better behaved than babies.”
Don’t expect this growing British dog trend to die out any time soon. At the recently opened hotel and private member’s club the Curtain, dogs are especially welcome. Its American owner, the hotelier Michael Achenbaum, says: “In a tech-fixated world, when everyone’s staring at their phones, dogs force people back to real life, to pay attention to a living being. Dogs are anti-modern, they make people happy, and I’m a big believer in making people happy. You’ll always see my dog around the place. She’s a rock star here.”