BEFORE cat cafes started to sprout like mushrooms around the city, there was a dog cafe that introduced Filipinos to the concept of a coffee shop with animal attractions.
Barkin' Blends Dog Cafe near Katipunan Ave., in Quezon City, opened its novelty shop last year and became an instant hit among dog lovers. Their motley group of beautiful dogs attracted frequent visitors who wish to be surrounded by a Lhasa Apso, Irish Setter, Chiweenie, Beagle, Basset Hound, Shar-Pei, Siberian Husky, and the handsome Golden Retriever and Labrador, among others.
We finally paid this pioneering establishment a visit one Friday afternoon and it was clear to us where its strength lies. However, we also have some reservations that dampened our earlier excitement and expectations.
From the door of Barking Blends to the corner bench where we sat, here's what we experienced:
* The place has a nice coffee shop vibe to it that greets you the moment you step in. Kudos to the good lighting, thoughtful use of space and minimal practical items that don't clutter up the relatively small dining area.
* The hot and cold beverages tasted good. Admission charge is P180 inclusive of basic drink. For fancier drinks, you'll need to add or pay extra.
* We were told there's a one- to two-hour wait to get inside the doggie play area. The place has free WiFi so you can sip your drink and surf online until your number is called. But we only had to wait for 30 minutes before they told us we could go in with our sealed drinks.
* The dogs were wonderful. Although a number of them were trying to sleep when we visited, the ones that greeted us had soft, silky fur and smelled good, which tells us they were clean.
* The dog area is clean. Attendants were armed with mops, dustpans and cleaning sprays to clean after the dogs right away.
* We got there at 4pm and saw an empty shelf for pastries. They said they quickly ran out of pastries and sandwiches. Barkin' Blends Dog Cafe opens from 12 noon to 9pm.
* One of the rules is to sanitize before and after entering the dog area. A quick, tiny spritz of hand sanitizer administered by one of the staff near the dog area was all it took.
* Guests are to use the provided slippers when entering the dog area. They have lockers for customers' bags and shoes but the lockers have no locks.
* Entering the doggie play area was a challenge as many customers milled around or sat on the floor in front of the gate. The attendants should have asked customers inside not to block the entrance and exit way.
* At one point, we counted 26 people and some nine dogs in the area. Unlike the dogs, the people were making a racket.
* We saw guests disturbing a sleeping Siberian Husky in full view of the cafe staff. The teenager was even lightly yanking the poor dog's legs together as it tried to sleep. A clear violation of the house rules.
* We all paid the same rate, but it was hard to equally enjoy the dogs when many customers were monopolizing them by keeping them on their laps, encircling them and passing them around like a ball (another violation of house rules against carrying the dogs. We also have on video a cafe staff handing over a dog to a girl who carried the animal to where her family was seated).
We can forgive the limited parking space and the instrumental version of some bad 80's music playing during out visit, but we couldn't stand the lack of adequate supervision to prevent the dogs from being badgered by overzealous customers. Why couldn't they teach customers to let the dogs come to them and not chase or keep them for themselves in a corner? We sat at the farthest end of the room and were happily approached by three dogs.
Seeing that there was a breakdown in rules, we decided to cut our visit short. Again, we had to negotiate our way out to avoid the group of people who crowded the exit.
We learned from a female staff that customers can stay with the dogs for two hours. Is it possible to extend and for how much more, we asked. The reply we got bamboozled our desire to visit again.
“Tanong nyo sa labas (Go ask outside),” she said curtly.
“Tanong ko sa labas?,” I repeated in disbelief.
“Oo, kasi tatanong din nila anong drinks nyo,” she snapped.
We looked at the printed set of rules attached to the wall. It didn't say staff should be rude to customers. Fortunately, the dogs were better behaved and probably for most of the customers that's all that matters.