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Old June 2nd, 2002, 11:09 AM
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Welcome to the canine café

Welcome to the canine café
Dogs get the royal treatment at Cookies, a chic St. Denis establishment that serves java with its unusual biscuits - from classic chicken to fancy Parmesan and garlic

Montreal Gazette

A sepia-tone print of a shaggy dog leaning on a bistro table hangs next to a giant bone-shaped sculpture by the café's doorway.

The poster boy - a handsome French braque - looks ready to sip a frothy cappuccino.

Regulars at Cookies, a chic St. Denis St. café that caters to canine patrons, don't usually drink coffee from cups.

Most go for a slurp of water from saucers - or rather, arty doggy bowls dotting the orange floor.

"But we have one, a small poodle, that likes to lick coffee from his owner's lips," said café co-owner François Champagne. "We get all kinds."

Champagne, 28, and his partner, Eveline Morin, 29, opened the café in December, following in the paw prints of dog-friendly "restaurants" already operating in the United States, Toronto and Vancouver.

A dog daycare and dog camp already exist in Montreal. But a dog café?

The couple didn't do any feasibility studies. But there are more than 40,000 canines in the former city of Montreal.

Some, including faithful Max, 15, a short-haired mixed breed, come in every afternoon to relax with friends, said the dog's owner, Luc Renzo.

"He loves the cookies. Peanut butter is his favourite. We have coffee and muffins," said Renzo, who drops in with his sister Mado.

Much is tolerated here, from sniffing derrieres to scratching fleas, but house rules forbid using the bright red fire hydrant decorating the premises.

Renzo and his sister sit on elegant green sofas by an exposed brick wall, decorated with signed black-and-white photographs of Cookies café patrons.

The central image on the café's wall of fame is of the owners' dog, an American cocker called Leia. No one gets in the door without her approval.

"She's the hostess, the bouncer and quality control," Champagne said of Leia, whose tastes in cookies run from classical chicken and beef to the gourmet choices - from sun-dried tomatoes and basil to Parmesan and garlic.

"Ooh, these look so good. I'm going to buy some even if I don't have a dog," said one woman who wandered in off the street.

"Would you like to try one?" Morin offered.

But despite assurances that ingredients were 100-per-cent natural and perfectly edible, the customer graciously declined.

That's the way the cookie crumbles.

In fact, food for humans at the café is restricted by the city's hygiene regulations to wrapped goods like muffins and chocolate bars, which are brought in from elsewhere. Nothing but the dog cookies are handled on the premises.

Dogs, said Morin, are a great way to meet others.

"You should see it here on the weekend. It starts with questions about names, age and gender. The dogs are playing together and the owners are talking, talking, talking.

"I don't know if it's led to any romance, but we get a lot of singles."

- Cookies, located at 3875A St. Denis St., is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday. For information, call (514) 281-2054.
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