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The Canine in Conversation
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man behind bar wiping glasses; bottles behind
figure 1  


bar dog. A bartender.

Now why does the poor bartender have to be called a dog? Tending bar is demanding work in which income is often at the whim of intoxicated people. Even when they tip, these folks can be less than pleasant to deal with. So who is really the dog here? Truth be told, this may never have been a very widely used expression. I have spoken to a number of mixologists over the years—young and old. Those few who were familiar with the term tended to associate it with the kind of customer who raises an index finger and yells, “Garçon!” I am guessing that anyone who calls the bartender a bar dog in the contemporary U.S. does so either ironically, as a rather obnoxious affectation, or both.

In her play about Joan or Arc and Susan B. Anthony, Little Victories, Lavonne Mueller makes use of the turn of phrase. It may sound like the opening to a trite joke, but in the beginning of Act II Susan B. Anthony walks into a bar...and speaks with a character whose only name is “bar dog.” Whatever significance was intended by the use of this name was not apparent to me in my reading of the scenes in which he—the barkeep—appears.reference 1

1. Mueller, Lavonne. 1984. Little Victories. New York: Dramatists Play Service.

dog sitting at bar with beret and sunglasses on wine in front of him
figure 2  

About the illustrations: In Figure 1 we see a bar dog wiping the glass so that it will be gleaming when someone calls for his ale. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is Hoover at the bar at Wiggy's in Austin, Texas. You can see that while he is not the bartender, he certainly seems to be at home here. He conveys a sense of both hip sophistication and ennui that I really appreciate. The photograph appears by permission of Wiggy's owner Tim Kutach. It was taken by Mary E. Thurston, anthropologist and the author of The Lost History of the Canine Race (Andrews and McMeel: 1996).

  Last updated: February 16, 2008
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