Meet 'The Dogfather' of St. Pete Beach

In St. Pete Beach, a pup named Nikko Mussolini has inspired a dog-friendly newcomer.

click to enlarge Nikko Mussolini features a bar area, retail section  and mini dog treat bakery. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Nikko Mussolini features a bar area, retail section and mini dog treat bakery.

Pure serendipity. That’s how the minds behind Nikko Mussolini’s Dog Barrrrr like to refer to the inspiration for their dog-friendly St. Pete Beach bar. His name is Nikko, aka The Dogfather, aka Tony Campetti and Cody Ballance’s 1-year-old ridgeback-pointer mix.

Campetti encountered Nikko for the first time under unfortunate circumstances. The dog’s former owner was about to take Nikko back to the kill shelter he came from, as he could no longer keep him, when Campetti commented, “That is a nice-looking dog.” After the owner explained his situation, Campetti raced home to consult Ballance, his fiancée, and just like that, the family of two became three.

Nikko, named after the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini because he commands the household, motivated Campetti, who’s Italian himself, to leave his corporate-level job and open up a place where the pooch would be welcome at all times.

“Let’s open a dog bar. We love dogs, we love people, we love to party and drink,” Campetti recalls telling Ballance. “Let’s put it all together, create an environment and call it an Italian name.”

click to enlarge Owners Tony Campetti and Cody Ballance with their ridgeback-pointer mix, Nikko Mussolini. - Nikko Mussolini's Dog Barrrrr
Nikko Mussolini's Dog Barrrrr
Owners Tony Campetti and Cody Ballance with their ridgeback-pointer mix, Nikko Mussolini.
And so they did.

The couple found a location near the water at 9524 Blind Pass Road and established what is now a very personalized Italian pub. Family photos sit underneath the glass bar top, everything from pictures of Campetti’s mother to Ballance in her college years. The ever-so-popular painting of dogs playing poker rests above the bar, while a “Mafia Wall” made up of four-legged “regulars” gives the small bar plenty of character.

Ballance and Campetti, who launched their venture in November, say they were the first true dog bar in the area.
“You can go to a restaurant with outdoor seating and bring your dog, but sometimes you get looks, like, ‘Oh really, did you have to bring your dog?’ But here, that is acceptable. This is the place to go. You don’t have to worry about repercussions, or feeling awkward,” Ballance says.

Nikko Mussolini serves specialty coffee drinks — appealing to early risers who wish to grab a cup of joe with their canine kid and to those needing a pick-me-up after one too many — but an impressive list of wine, beer and sake is also on hand. Soon, the bar plans to release a new beverage lineup with items like the “fire hydrant,” “dog island tea” and “leg humper,” each made with wine-based liquors. Pups can also look forward to a broth-based doggie beer within the next month.

In addition to the drinks, the bar, which doesn’t serve food but does partner with local businesses that deliver to humans, has dedicated a corner of its space to dogs looking to revamp their style. Tiny shirts that read “get your nose off my butt,” fancy beaded leashes and flashy collars are available for purchase, plus typically 300 to 400 gourmet dog treats for pooches with a sweet tooth.

The newcomer has become quite a hit among locals who drop by for happy hour on weekdays, themed gatherings such as disco and doggie date nights, and weekend live music. Campetti has no doubt that the region will see more concepts like Nikko Mussolini over time.

“The pet industry is a $60 billion industry,” he says. “Often times, people care more about their pets than their kids.” 

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