DUNEDIN — The Dunedin Brewery has for the last eight years welcomed in drinkers and dogs of all sizes, shapes and breeds.
Dog walkers stop in nearly every day for a glass of wheat ale or a pub burger at the outdoor patio, co-owner Kandi Bryant said. Dogs, about 50 of them a week, even get to drink from their own bowls of water.
The Douglas Avenue brewery is one of a dozen local dining halls and drinking spots that attract customers to their outdoor seating areas by allowing dogs to accompany their masters.
The problem? That can be against the law.
Restaurants in most cities, including Dunedin, are bound by state health codes that prohibit dogs from entering the property of establishments whose primary business is serving prepared food (as opposed to just chips and peanuts).
Dogs, aside from service dogs, can't legally enter a restaurant's interior under any circumstances, said state Department of Business & Professional Regulation spokeswoman Jenn Meale, though some cities have set their own local laws allowing dogs outside.
Dunedin has yet to add itself to that list.
"Wait, really?" said Tom Altavilla, a bartender at Cricketers, a dog-friendly British pub and eatery on Bayshore Boulevard. "That's news to me."
At the center of the confusion is the Dixie Cup Clary Local Control Act, known to many as the "doggie dining" bill. Passed in 2006, it allowed cities to opt out of the state's stricter code banning dogs from restaurant patios. St. Petersburg, St. Pete Beach, Tampa, Gulfport and Bradenton, among others, have taken the state up on its offer.
Though Dunedin still hasn't, local restaurateurs say they've never been cited for skirting the rules.
"No one has come to us in the last 25 years," said Jimi Capezzuto, the general manager of the dog-friendly Eddie's Bar & Grill. "Every single county commissioner and city commissioner has sat on our patio over the last six months. We're friends with every police officer in the area."
Meale said state inspectors review each restaurant twice a year. They'll issue violations if they spot a prohibited pup. The state can demand a fine of $250 from repeat offenders or even revoke a business license.
One interesting note to the law, however: It doesn't say anything about drinks. Drinking halls from pubs to wineries, even those offering basic bar grub like peanuts, can allow dogs inside and out, a provision that local business owners have seized on for years.
Patrons attending the Dunedin Brewery's monthly Suds on Sunday Dog Wash get a free beer. At Rosie's Tavern, a downtown pub that opened last month, patrons post dog pictures on the wall near a portrait of Rosie, the owner's late beagle. And at Got Wine & Cigars on Douglas Avenue, regulars like Mike Howell walk their dogs along the Pinellas Trail before coming inside, where the bartender keeps a canister of treats.
"She likes it here," Howell said, pausing from his Nub cigar and glass of Merlot to pet his long-haired chihuahua, Pepper. "She can sprawl out on the floor. It cools her tummy."
Dunedin assistant director of planning development Matthew Campbell said the city had decided in recent years to pass on "doggie dining" without a widespread poll of residents.
"If a local entity was interested in seeking approval from the city to draft this ordinance, or there was a big enough constituency to get this started again," Campbell said, "the climate could be different."
City commissioners, alluding to dog-friendly events like the Yappy Hour benefits, Bark in the Park days at the Dunedin Stadium and large quarterly "pup crawls," said they'd be open to an ordinance.
"I would support it," said Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski. "We're a dog-friendly community. For God's sake, we have a Mardi (Gras) pups parade."
No ordinance, though, has yet entered into the discussion. Unless anything changes, restaurant and bar workers said they'd run business as usual.
"You don't want to leave your dog alone all the time," said Nichole Plutnicki, a server at Jolli Mon's on Huntley Avenue, where dogs are welcomed with water bowls at the outdoor tables. "Here, they can socialize."
Contact Drew Harwell at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4170.