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‘This has been my life’

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | August 18, 2020 1:05 AM

DogHouse owner looks back on six years of operating downtown bar

COEUR d’ALENE — As Suzi O’Brien sat in the DogHouse Tavern before it opened Monday afternoon, her daughter, Shea, walked in and without a word, handed her a bouquet.

O’Brien looked at the colorful flowers and smiled at her daughter.

“She’s here to support me,” she said.

That’s because the DogHouse Tavern, which opened six years ago at 110 N. Fourth St., closed Monday.

A disappointed O’Brien said she lost her lease on the 900-square-foot site. She marked the final night with a jam session, hugs and farewells with loyal customers.

She has come to know their names, what they drink and what they like to talk about.

“There’s been so many lasting friendships here,” O’Brien said with a shake of her head. “They’re my family. They are like my children.”

When the younger crowd did arrive, she made sure they were respectful.

“Most people think of me as a second mom because I don’t defend bad behavior and they know that,” she said, smiling.

The DogHouse is a simple watering hole. There are two dart machines and pool. Most sit at the long bar but there are several smaller tables with chairs.

It’s a mostly older crowd that has settled in for beer, wine and mixed drinks since it opened its doors.

“It’s a chill place. You can play darts, you can play pool. I don’t have fights,” O’Brien said. “I have the cleanest bar in town.”

Had.

O’Brien, with a background in the bar business, moved to Coeur d’Alene in 2014. After taking over the site of a former art gallery on Fourth Street, she said she invested in improvements for her tavern, settling on the name, “DogHouse.”

She noted downtown already had the Eagles, the Moose and the Iron Horse so she liked that animal theme.

“When you’re in the doghouse you’re always in trouble and that’s kind of my life,” she said, laughing.

The DogHouse became her life for the next six years.

She hired only a few employees, worked pretty much every day, 364 days a year, closed only on Christmas. She mixed and served drinks, greeted customers, cleaned up and ordered inventory. Her shifts often started early and ended late.

“I worked my butt off,” she said.

She put on fundraisers for nonprofits and was especially committed to helping children. O’Brien missed many family birthdays and gatherings.

“This has been my life,” O’Brien said.

When the coronavirus hit, she was forced to close the DogHouse for 10 weeks. She said she did not receive any government assistance.

She and her bar survived and when given the green light to reopen, they did — and made a strong comeback.

“I’ve done my best,” she said.

O’Brien isn’t sure what’s next. Location is everything in her business and she said there isn’t much out there now.

“I really don’t know,” she said.

She does know she’s out of the DogHouse.

“It’s hard to believe,” she said.