One of the most popular craft breweries in Portland, Maine, just made a very controversial decision.
Bissell Brothers Brewing Co. announced recently via Facebook that dogs will no longer be welcome at its Thompson Point tasting room, inside or out, beginning May 1.
“ATTENTION: After months of incidents and observations, we have decided to no longer allow dogs in our tasting room (inside AND outside) effective May 1st,” the post reads. “We love pooches just as much as we always have, but a multitude of very legitimate health, safety, and legal realities have brought us to this conclusion. Thanks for understanding!”
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Not surprisingly – beer and dogs are two topics that tend to illicit rather strong opinions, after all – the decision has been met with a torrent of both ire and appreciation. Some people seem to view it as a savvy, though difficult, business decision. Others are heart-broken. Others still wonder hopefully whether a ban on children might be next. (No joke: This was a comment that came up quite a lot, actually.)
If not being able to bring the animal they own to our brewery is enough to make someone never come back, then we didn't want them here in the first place.[/pullquote]
"Growing concerns over the safety of both our patrons and the animals themselves, as well as sanitary issues (tons of dogs peeing and pooping on the floors, as well as endless barking and sometimes fighting) has led us to decide to no longer allow this," Bissell Brothers co-founder Peter Bissell told me. "We're simply too big, too busy, and have too much invested in this business to risk any type of incident."
During a recent visit in late February, and like most every other time I’ve been, dogs abounded. A golden retriever dutifully waited by his owner’s side as he ordered some Substance ale to go; a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy lay curled up in the sun under one of the indoor tables. Just a quick stop for me, my dog remained in the car.
It’s a scene that’s becoming more and more commonplace in brewery taprooms across the country. For many, dogs and beer just go hand in hand -- if you can enjoy them both together, all the better. Everett's Night Shift Brewing, for example, has gained a reputation as a dog-friendly brewery, even hosting recurring Paws+Pints events with proceeds going to a local animal-centric organizations.
But since the beginning, they've drawn a line in the sand.
"Dogs are only allowed outside on our patio. We really view Night Shift as a place where we want the entire family to be able to come and enjoy," co-founder Rob Burns, has two Australian Shepherds, Growler and Tap, told me. "It's a community space and being able to bring your dog with you while you enjoy some fresh beers and delicious food from a truck outside in New England is an amazing thing."
Of course, not everyone is enthused to share precious taproom space with four-legged visitors. Some people are allergic; some might be frightened of dogs; for visitors with small children, safety concerns can arise. Also feasible: Some patrons might just not want a bunch of strange dogs ogling their fresh IPA.
Bissell Brothers has clearly made a business decision here, one I’m sure didn’t come easily. And they’re banking on customers understanding the rationale behind the move. Not surprisingly, the comments under the Facebook article – now nearing the 200 mark – represent a mixed bag of relief, resentment, and, uh, otherwise.
“I love dogs tons but i think i speak for all my fellow allergy sufferers in my most sincere THANK YOU!”
"Dog owner here and this is a great business decision.. One bad apple does spoil the bunch all it takes is one lawsuit and it's game over…"
"We went in one night when it was rainy.. smelled nothing but wet dog.. excellent move!!"
"I'm a dog owner and support your decision 100%. It's a brewery not a dog park."
"Why not welcome dogs and their owners once a month instead of being cut and dried on a policy?"
"I have a dog. I love dogs. But, a dog bites someone - sue Bissell! A dog maims another dog - sue Bissell! A human trips on a leash carrying a case of beer and splits their head open - sue Bissell! I'm shocked at all the negative, selfish comments."
"That's so sad!! One of my favorite things is all of the dogs."
"During a recent visit, a dog urinated on the floor behind the counter. It was promptly cleaned up by an employee. I didn't say anything at the time. Other customers might not be so chill, though, as some of these posts suggest. But if the business was my livelihood, I would reconsider the policy, too."
Can you please ban kids too? I'd argue they are a way bigger liability in your tap room (which we witnessed first-hand recently, where the parents didn't give a hoot that their young kids were running all around and bumping into people and provoking dogs- not cool or safe.)
And these are the nicer ones. Like many online forums, this one devolved pretty quickly, with some commenters offering thoughts that were petty, disrespectful or downright offensive.
"If anything, it is an interesting look at the Internet-fueled outrage culture that we now live in, this bizarre sense of entitlement, and any type of policy change eliciting hysteria," said Bissell. "If not being able to bring the animal they own to our brewery is enough to make someone never come back, then we didn't want them here in the first place. We love dogs here, this was a common sense choice rooted in public safety, public health, and legal compliance. We trust that the vast majority of our fans understand, whether they own dogs or not."
At work here are a couple opposing and powerful forces. On the one hand, enjoying a fresh beer outside amid a few strangers and their well-behaved dogs can be a real treat. But, of course, not all dogs are so well-behaved, despite some owners' insistence on the contrary.
"Dogs are fairly social creatures so it works well. We do require them to be leashed and well behaved," Burns added of Night Shift's dog policy. "People are allowed to bring other animals too – we had someone regularly bring a cat last summer in one of those strollers. The dogs always loved that!"
This is a difficult line to toe, but clearly for Bissell Brothers the potential downsides have become too great to offset the pleasure of being a dog-friendly establishment in what's considered a very dog-friendly city.
As for whether children – another entity for which good behavior can be a relative qualification –might be banned next, Bissell didn't blush.
"Human children and animals are not the same," he said, "no matter how much hardcore pet people want it to be true."
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