New York City Bars Dogs from Bars

In New York, dogs can take the witness stand at a criminal trial. But at least in New York City, they’re not allowed to go into bars.

NYC regulators recently banned dogs from bars, even those with outdoor seating areas and those that serve only beverages:

[I]t has always been a violation of the city’s health code to allow a dog anywhere near a beer tap. But for years, this has been one of the most widely — and gleefully — violated rules in the city.

Not any more.

Since the health department adopted a letter grade system for bars and restaurants last year, bar owners say, health inspectors are allowing no wiggle room for four-legged patrons….

During inspections, many owners said they were surprised to learn that dogs were not allowed even in outdoor seating areas. Neither does a bar’s dearth of actual food products provide any cover. “Beer, wine and spirits have always been classified as food,” a department spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail. Only service dogs are permitted in spaces that serve food or drink of any kind.

As Thom Lambert points out, this is a ridiculous regulation. Dogs near food service areas do pose some risks. But as anyone who has a dog and a kitchen at home knows, they are fairly easy to minimize. More fundamentally, most people can readily understand the (very small) risks involved and decide for themselves whether they want to patronize a dog-friendly bar or not. Market incentives can and do supply plenty of dog-free watering holes for those who don’t want to take the risk of guzzling beer near canines, or simply don’t like dogs.

One of the major advantages of of private property rights is that they provide outlets for people with a wide range of different preferences. Dog-lovers can patronize one set of establishments and dog-haters another. As Thom emphasizes, this kind of diversity also enables communities to flourish, as well as individuals:

We classical liberals are often criticized for undermining communitarian values by emphasizing individual liberties. In reality, though, a liberal society (in the classical sense, not the welfare-state sense) fosters community by allowing people to associate in ways they find most meaningful. Indeed, one of the great things about a liberal, live-and-let-live city is that it can accommodate so many communities that cater to different preferences and values. Orthodox Jews, devout Muslims, evangelical Protestants, gays and lesbians, and various ethnic groups can create their own little communities to foster shared values…..

I was reminded of this point yesterday when I read that the Bloomberg administration, in the name of “public health,” is cracking down on bars that allow dogs…. How sad for New York City. Nothing builds community better than a collection of spaces — bars, coffeshops, diners, etc. — where neighbors can go to relax, converse, and share their lives. And nothing is more likely to keep people coming back and to get them talking to each other than to allow them to bring their dogs. If you don’t believe me, head down to your local dog park and watch people interact. Nobody’s a stranger at the dog park.

Thom’s point is well-taken. I didn’t know most of my current neighbors until we got a golden retriever and people started coming up to pet Willow whenever I took her for a walk. A space where people can bring dogs has a lot more community interaction than one where they can’t.

Property rights are particularly important for protecting unpopular people and groups against persecution. In this case, however, New York City has undermined property rights in a way that harms a much wider range of people for little or no benefit. Dog ownership is extremely widespread and even many non-dog owners enjoy interacting with man’s best furry friends.