To many, New York City's gritty East Village — land of eclectic spirits and graffitied, rough edges, where cabbies once wouldn't dare to take you — is a thing long past, supplanted by NYU students and increasingly wealthy people, and the big box stores and restaurants they frequent, along with a smattering of high-end accoutrement. To anyone who fancies the East Village as a hip and lawless place to be, though, the question is this: Can a neighborhood retain any semblance of a reputation for edge when a "contemporary pet care hub" called Ruff Club not only opens there, on Avenue A in the East Village, but also gets a writeup in the New York Times' Thursday Styles?
These questions are not only rhetorical. This has happened. Let's examine what it might mean. Bob Morris, who writes the Times piece (and is a dog owner who took his own dog, a longhaired miniature dachshund named Zoloft, to the club), explains that the annual fee for the members-only establishment "isn't daunting" (it's $149, with additional fees to board; add your own "to anyone with money" to his quote). Also, there are processes involved! Your dog has to undergo a screening interview "almost as rigorous as any for private school" to gain membership into the club, which features an "old-fashion wooden bar, artisanal Brooklyn-made toile wallpaper and leather club chairs." Sounds about right for a dog club located near an artisanal water store; note, "the Ruff Club, which offers scholarships and community programs, does not screen humans for hipness."
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I'm not down on dogs or their owners, and in fairness, the people who run the Ruff Club — Danny Frost and his wife, Alexia Simon Frost, sound lovely, like very well-groomed and stylish dog lovers who want the dogs in their care to be healthy and happy. But we're talking about a place where adults are talking seriously and reassuringly about windows of "separation anxiety" and other human-experienced doggy complaints. It all seems so very ... Brooklyn. Writes Morris, of one part of his experience:
I ran after them as fast as a helicopter parent chasing a teacher down the hall at an open house. I wanted to warn Ms. Lane that Zoloft sometimes growls and lunges at other dogs. Ms. Lane looked at me with what seemed to be amused concern. “If you stop tensing up and yanking her leash when you see other dogs, she’ll relax,” she said.
“Do you think I’m being overprotective?” I asked.
“I do,” she replied. “But dogs are like our babies.”
“Don’t worry,” Ms. Simon Frost added when we were back inside, where other dogs were undergoing interviews. “Your dog will get into a good college.”
Though there's no dog "yoga, massage, or any forms of coddling" at The Ruff Club, and its owners say they won't "infantalize dogs" as some high-end spas do, avoiding even the word "doggy" as associated with "day care" — “We just don’t think that’s appropriate for the East Village,” Morris was told — this does seem a final blow to what remains of any bad old day lingering reputation the neighborhood might have. This is probably no surprise to anyone, though; CBGBs has been a John Varvatos for years now. The former Mars Bar site is going to be a bank. In terms of signifiers of full-blown gentrification, the dog club is right up there with the artisanal mayo store. The more things change, the more they change. Circle of life, one could suppose.
Spoiler: Zoloft gets in.
Image via Shutterstock by Javier Brosch.