Dog Date: Big Star & The T-Shirt Deli

Since adding Ginger (an adorable teddy-bear-ish Australian Labradoodle) to our family in October of 2018, I never thought about having a date with my dog. I was focused on training, and scooping poop, and crying over the loss of a few good pairs of sandals (RIP my limited edition Ipanema solemates). I didn’t think taking this cuddly yet crazy creature out in public was ever going to happen. With the typical puppy behavior of:

  • Jumping up on friends, family and strangers alike
  • Straining at the leash like she was giving Usain Bolt a run for his money
  • Employing her puppy play tactics of nipping our kids

…a dog date was not in the cards.

DOG DATE: Big Star & T-Shirt Deli

Eventually, I spoke with a few friends that had rectified similar situations and shipped sweet and scattered Ginger to doggy boarding school. She was able to interact with other dogs, learn some basic commands, and settle down while walking on a leash.

Planning a Dog Date

A month after her return, I knew we were ready to have a day out with friends- a puppy play date with cocktails (for me, ice water for her), and a little shopping spree. The thing was, I had NO clue what establishments were puppy-friendly. What do I do if she decides to take a downward derriere move at a restaurant? Lift a leg inside a store? Could we have an outing that consisted of something other than bootie-sniffing (her, not me) and ball throwing (me, not her)?

My answer came in the form of an email from the T-Shirt Deli. I used to live in Bucktown and as a person who simply adores apparel and creativity, I would peer into the window and marvel at the marketing genius that created this concept. The T-Shirt Deli is a storefront (and online shop) that creates custom t-shirts in a deli setting. The T-Shirt Deli now has two locations- Andersonville (1482 W. Berwyn) and Bucktown (1739 N. Damen). They asked if I would like to come in with a friend and make a shirt on them to test out their set up. There was even a mention that I could bring a four-legged friend (!). I was thrilled. Now to set up my dog date.

First stop, Wicker Park

On a hot summer day, Ginger’s tongue is usually lolling outside of her mouth as she grins happily, prancing along, excited to go on adventure. Our first stop was Wicker Park, where they have a dog-friendly area that includes off-leash allowance and a doggie drinking fountain. I wanted to tire Ginger out so she would crash at lunch, not crash my lunch and allow her to use the *ahem* facilities prior to dining.

Tip: Windy City Paws, a Chicago Dog Walking company, has a great blog for dog owners that offers a ton of info about your pooch and the city. They also have a Dog-Friendly Event Calendar to plan your next dog date! If you go to a park without a doggie water fountain, make sure to bring a water bottle and bowl for your pup, or a nifty product like this. The Lesotc Pet Water Bottle is ideal because it has a cap that transforms into a stand-alone bowl. Grab it on Amazon for around $15 here.

Second stop, Big Star

A favorite restaurant of mine (and all fellow taco-obsessed Chicagoans) is Big Star. Side note- why are restaurants housed in former gas stations always so charming? Anyways, I recalled walking by Big Star previously and seeing puppies chilling on the patio. As I walked my weary puppy up to the hostess stand, she immedately seated us at an outdoor table in the shade in a corner, out of the way of other patrons (leashes can totally be tripping hazards as can wandering dogs). After we were situated, she returned with a water dish just for Ginger, which my waitstaff kept filled to the brim with icewater. Honestly, I don’t even get this treatment at many restaurants! We met our friends Roxy (a rescue Chihuaha) and Aneesha & Tina (both human) for an afternoon of Palomas, tacos, and dog treats for our dog date.

Tip: Bring a friend with you just in case you have to go to the bathroom. Most restaurants allow dogs on the patio, but not inside the restaurant, so you better hold it if you gotta go. Don’t tie your dog to the table- this could be a disaster if your dog bolts. Hold the leash or clip to your belt. I also bring treats and quiet toys to entertain, as well a plenty of poop bags and a sanitizing spray + paper towel just in case there are emergencies.

Third Stop, T-Shirt Deli

After wrapping up our lovely lunch, we walked a few short blocks north to The T-Shirt Deli. Immediately upon entering we were greeted with grins from the staff- they seem to truly love dogs and friendly faces. The concept of the T-Shirt Deli is this: plan your t-shirt like you would plan your sandwich. Pick your color and style, font and saying, customize it to your taste and your humor. They have books upon books of inspiration as well as a wall of colors, prints, cuts and weights of short-sleeved t-shirts, long-sleeves, tanks, sweatshirts, baby apparel and, of course, dog attire.

T-Shirt Deli Dog Tshirt

I knew what saying I wanted before I set foot in the store- a little mom/dog humor that stole a few lines from a cult classic film of the aughts, Mean Girls.

I tossed out my idea to the gals behind the counter and they were on it. They figured out how many lines it would take, how to center it, then asked me to pick a color and font. I selected a charcoal sweatshirt for myself (because um…in the Midwest we wear sweatshirts over every other piece of apparel about 5 to 1) and a light grey t-shirt for Ginger. I loved the “Lunchbox” font- a little retro, not too bubbly, and chose a gorgeous metallic for my saying. Ginger, being the little lady, received magenta letters.

Tip: You can spend hours persusing the books, searching for the perfect design. Ask the super helpful staff for their input- they are graphic artists and know what look best!

Mean Girls Quote Dog Tshirt

As we waited, I chatted with friends and checked out the decor of the deli. If deli chic was a thing, the T-Shirt Deli definitely would embody every aspect. The walls were decorated with faux sausages and hanging baskets chock full of deli-style wrapped goodies. Font, color and layout samples were on display under glass in a massive deli counter and books were available to peruse at a table complete with leather-topped swivel stools. A small bistro table with slatted chairs invited customers to visit while their orders came to life.

T-Shirt Deli Sample Shirts T-Shirt Deli Stock T-shirt Deli T-shirts, Sweatshirts

Retail Therapy with Your Dog

I waited for around 30-40 minutes while my two designs were freshly prepared by their t-shirt artists. Wait times vary depending upon their traffic, and you are welcome to lounge or head to nearby shops for a little retail therapy. Lush, the cult cosmetics and beauty store famous for their bath bombs, is located a few doors down and allows dogs to shop along. Plus, Lush is majorly active in the fight against animal testing- yay for Fido!

A little video to sum up our dog date in Chicago:

Here is our complete look from The T-Shirt Deli- doesn’t Ginger look totally Fetch? What an adorable souvenir of our dog date!

Custom Dog T-shirt from T-Shirt Deli

She even sported her new custom T-shirt at a Chicago Dogs Bark at the Ballpark game and received many compliments.

Dog T-shirt from The T-Shirt Deli

Overall, we had an absolutely fantastic dog date and fondly recall our outing every time we wear our matching T-Shirt Deli attire. Ok, maybe I fondly recall it and Ginger tolerates me stuffing her into a skinny T, but it was a memorable day date for both of us!

Cheers to spending having a date with a four-legged friend who is the epitome of unconditional love! And if you want a human date night idea, check out this show before it wraps!

Disclosure: I was provided with products from The T-Shirt Deli for review purposes. All opinions are honest and my own, as always.