35 Queensdown Road, London, E5
T: 020 7458 4481 | W: starbyhackneydowns.co.uk
When Mario took over The Star by Hackney Downs, he saw its vast potential. ‘We had this beautiful park in front of us, and so many of our locals had dogs – it made great sense from a personal and business point of view to be dog-friendly.’
At the time, his thinking went against the grain. This was 2013 and as Mario tells Dudley & Co, few London pubs and restaurants put out the welcome mat for our four-legged friends. ‘I always noticed how many Londoners had dogs, how much they were loved, but how few places they could go. And I thought – why?’
A native of Sardinia, Mario grew up in a huge house filled with ‘up to five dogs at a time’. That kind of canine companionship just wasn’t possible in London, where work commitments and renting meant he had a pub, but no pup. ‘So I thought: “If I cannot give the love I have to my own dog, I will give it to all the dogs that come here, and make them know that my home is their home”.’
Business flourished. A proper north London boozer, The Star has retained its old look and feel while being redesigned in a way that invokes memories of a Victorian-era circus. There are good beers on tap, a solid wine menu, Sunday roasts, and a karaoke room that resembling a cosy gypsy caravan, with palm-readings on request.
Mario reckons half of his customers own a dog, and goes out of his way to welcome them. ‘I have plenty of water bowls, so they feel hydrated at all times. We have a massive outdoor space where dogs can run around easily and safely. Every dog has their picture taken, and it goes up on our wall of fame.’ Both sides of the bar are plastered with photos of happy hounds hanging out with friends old and new.
Despite being very much a local pub, Mario’s status as a favoured watering hole for humans and canines alike hasn’t gone unnoticed in celebrity circles. The DJ Nick Grimshaw is a regular, as are the singer Jamie T, and Alfie Allen, an actor best known for his role as Theon Greyjoy in the HBO series Game of Thrones.
An annual dog show, which takes place on the last bank holiday in August, has been a hit. ‘Lots of our locals sign up and bring their dogs. It’s all relaxed, very ad hoc. We give out awards including the “best rescue dog story” and this year for the first time, the “best-dressed dog”. Is it too presumptuous to hope that this time next year the winner will be wearing a Dudley & Co jumper?