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A year after debut, Bardo brews and Bar Dog rules

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Most restaurants and bars employ a host to greet guests, and Bardo — a brewery and beer garden in Northeast Washington — is no exception. But Bardo's host is different from most — he has four furry legs and a wagging tail, and his name is Bar Dog.

"This is his domain. He doesn't like to leave," says Bill Stewart, co-owner of Bardo. Stewart adopted Bar Dog, an Australian cattle dog, from West Virginia at about the same time he and his brother Andrew opened the brewery in the District of Columbia's Trinidad neighborhood.

Bar Dog's job isn't limited to welcoming guests: He frequently tweets to announce the brewery's specials and he entertains other dogs at Bardo (yes, you can bring your dog). He's also the brewery's security guard.

"He lives here day and night," Stewart says. "He knows when the gate is locked, it's his domain. If you climb the fence in the middle of the night, you have to talk to Bar Dog. It probably isn't going to be a good conversation, either."

Unlike other breweries in the District, Bardo is an outdoor operation. It's in a formerly vacant lot on Bladensburg Road — so Bar Dog's patrol role is an important one.

"We like the outside," Stewart says. "And really, in D.C., there are not many vacant lots left. So there's really not much outside area, unless you're in a park. And you can't drink in those."

Stewart says last year, a few guys climbed the fence and attempted to take a few things from the brewery, but Bar Dog "chewed them up."

"I guess word got out, because we haven't had a problem since," Stewart says.

During the week, Bar Dog spends his days napping and shadowing Stewart, who gets to the brewery between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. to brew and/or maintain the property. The brewing responsibility is a new one, though. Despite opening last year, Bardo only received the OK from the District to brew last month.

For the last 12 months, they've been serving other craft beers on draft. The Stewarts are now making pale ale, ginger beer, an IPA, an imperial stout and more — many of which are recipes resurrected from Bardo's first go-round in the '90s.

"We're making the same old (Great American Beer Festival) award-winning beers, and we're going to add some new beers, too because there's new varieties of hops and all that," says Stewart, who also has plans to brew a Tibetan-style beer.

The instant Bardo's beers started flowing from the taps, Stewart says, he's seen a noticeable increase in customers.

"People were just waiting for the beer to start going," he says.

But the beer menu is just one noticeable change at Bardo. When nature called last summer, the only option for patrons was a port-a-potty. Over the winter, Stewart rehabilitated the small brick building on the property that was once an illegal strip club, a barber shop, a tavern and a saddle shop.

He tore out linoleum to expose the heart pine floors, built some tables with leftover wood from his farm and installed two bathrooms.

"We've got an official women's room, men's room and everything," Stewart says. "Everybody (complained) about the port-a-potty, so that was the first thing we got rid of."

The building will serve as the main bar space during the winter and, of course, a place for Bar Dog to remain dry on rainy days.

Stewart says the past year has been nonstop work — from constructing the movie screen on the brewery's shipping containers, building fire pits during the colder months, renovating the indoor space and launching Bardo's brewing operation. He's ready for a beach vacation, but still has plans to improve the venue.

He's building a silo to hold thousands of pounds of grain for the beer, and Stewart is considering an outdoor pizza oven at some point.

"We want to put together a self-serve beer tap setup . so that's on our agenda too," he says.

But Stewart assures the changes at Bardo will not affect the brewery's laid-back, quirky outdoor ambiance — a welcome break from the District's boom of posh and polished restaurants and bars.

"Everything is still pretty much the same; we're just making beer now," Stewart says.

If you plan a visit to Bardo, make sure to bring food; the brewery serves only beer. And if you want to make fast friends with Bar Dog, make sure that food is in the form of pizza. He's made it very clear it's his favorite.

"Be his friend. Post pictures of you and Bar Dog hanging out; people always do — all of his fan club."

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Information from: WTOP-FM, http://www.wtop.com

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