Beer Hound

October 11, 1994|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff Writer

Beer foaming at the mouth, the customer again stiffs the bartender at the Full Moon Saloon. No tip, no thank-you. Just that burly WOOF, WOOFING.

Bronco, a 4-year-old Labrador, is the official beer-drinking dog of Fells Point. Take a second to digest that, if you need to.

The bandanna-wearing scamp loves suds. He darts into a

number of gut-bucket bars along Fleet and Aliceanna streets, leaps up unto a bar stool, and barks once for a Budweiser. His owner, Joe Burchette, pours the beer into a Styrofoam dish or sometimes bottle-feeds his dog. They make a popular pair in these parts.

The dog will hop from bar stool to bar stool, as knowing customers cover their beers with their hands. When Bronco's done, his owner picks up the tab and the dish.

"Two beers and Bronco's OK. Three or four and I put the leash on him," says Mr. Burchette, a 27-year-old who was working as a temporary worker at General Motors. He knows his dog's temper and tastes. Forget Coors, forget Michelob. "And I tried non-alcoholic beer. He turned his nose up to it."

He's definitely a Bud dog. And Bronco is definitely in the right part of Baltimore.

Fells Point loves its dogs. People walk them all over the place. TC Occasionally, sleeping dogs lie in the doorways of businesses here. So it's not surprising to find dogs hanging out in some of the bars.

Step into The Cat's Eye Pub and hear stories about a black Lab who used to drink White Russians until his head rested on the bar top. Or the older woman who comes in at lunch with her Yorkie and gives the dog a dose of beer in a cup.

But Bronco is the best-known of the neighborhood's beer-drinking canines.

"It's not that he gets drunk -- he just gets silly," says Gene Mauk, a bartender at the Full Moon Saloon on Aliceanna Street.

For the record, Bronco is no lush. He and his owner come in infrequently and rarely does the dog drink more than two beers, Mr. Mauk says.

A beer-drinking dog is too offbeat to be legal. And it isn't.

At the city's Health Department, the first person we call can barely keep a straight face. Then, someone else delivers the official statement: "We do not allow any animal in a food establishment -- unless it's a Seeing Eye dog," spokeswoman Beverly Camp says.

And bars are included since a food establishment is defined, in part, as any business handling ice, Ms. Camp says.

At the Humane Society of Baltimore County, a spokeswoman says, and we quote, "Oh, man."

Then, Kathleen Reynolds regains her composure. "I don't know what our policy is on dogs drinking beer," she says. "I don't think it's supposed to be good for them."

A beer-drinking dog can't be a healthy thing. And it probably isn't.

If a dog shows no physical signs of illness and drinks in moderation, he may never have a health problem, says Dr. Allan Frank, a veterinarian at the Hunt Valley Animal Hospital.

Still, "I certainly wouldn't recommend it," he says.

Like people, dogs can become dependent on alcohol and develop liver disease.

"We'd have an epidemic of alcoholic dogs," Dr. Frank says. "We'd have to have crisis centers for dogs."

The size of the drinking dog matters. In this case, the constitution of a full-sized Labrador probably can handle a little bit of beer, Dr. Frank says. But he remembers when someone brought a Yorkie drunk on vodka to his office. It could have died, he says.

Everyone appears to be alive and well at the Full Moon Saloon. "Inside Edition" is talking very loudly from the mounted TV in this blues bar. Blue Christmas lights twinkle. Polaroids of customers are showcased on a side wall: pictures of male patrons stripped down to their black bikini briefs; pictures of Joe Burchette and Bronco, doing their thing.

A little after 5 one recent evening, Bronco sits next to his owner on a bar stool at the Full Moon. Bronco, who's part Chesapeake retriever, waits for the go-ahead.

"I didn't say 'go' yet," Mr. Burchette says. He pours some of his beer into the dish. "OK, Go!"

Bronco's molasses-colored eyes glaze over. He laps the beer, flailing away with his great tongue. The beer becomes foam lathered on the dog's mouth.

The beer is now gone, and Bronco looks like he's looking for a cigarette.

"Yeah, the dog's a character," the bartender says.

"He's a bum," jokes regular Lou Remey, who sits around the bartop's bend from Mr. Burchette and Bronco. The last time Mr. Remey sat next to them, he got up to use the bathroom, and came back to an empty beer glass. Bronco had lifted the thing in his teeth and drained it.

"Why do you think I'm sitting over here?" Mr. Remey asks. He likes Bronco a little more than he wants to. "He's a dog, and I'm a sea dog. I guess we're related."

The question everyone must be asking themselves is, does Bronco drink at home?

"No, he's not allowed," says Donna Burchette, Joe's wife. "Don't want to burn the poor dog's brain out."

She remembers walking Bronco one night when the door to a saloon opened and someone yelled one word: BUD.

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