Lily Ghela worked at The Swamp Restaurant before it closed in Midtown in June 2019.
But events like Barktober Fest brought her back to its new location on Second Avenue over three years later.
“I love how all the dogs are here and I can pet them while I’m working,” The Swamp server and bartender said.
On Wednesday, The Swamp hosted its first Barktober Fest since reopening, raising money for Faithful Friends Pet Rescue and Rehoming and giving out prizes. With a grand prize for the costume valued around $175, according to Swamp owner Ryan Prodesky, the competition proved ferocious.
Dogs dressed as cowboys, UPS drivers, pumpkins, Woody from “Toy Story” and criminals.
Or, in the case of Prim, a “smooth priminal,” as University of Florida sophomore Reed Jeffries said.
Jefferies, a political science and religion student, brought business student Lauren Ludwig to The Swamp for her first time so they could bring their Kappa Delta sorority house dog, Prim. Their Alabamian House Mom, “Ms. B,” picked out the costume.
Regardless of the contest results, they agreed the event was cute and a great time.
“We would definitely come back,” Jeffries said.
Others meticulously went through several costumes in order to find the right one. Fifth-year senior Meredith McCurdy and graduate student Hannah Weeren gathered their group of friends and arrived early to The Swamp.
“We’ve been preparing for this for five days,” McCurdy said, “‘We’re like Bowser’s got this in the bag, buddy. If there’s anything he can do for us, it’s to win this competition, and he pulled through.”
Bowser got boosted by a last-minute costume change — from a pumpkin to Elvis, said Weeren, an education student.
The move, paired with sunglasses, paid off.
Elvis took home the prize: a basket filled with many treats, a bone pillow and a squeaky toy Tito’s bottle.
“Puppies are immediate endorphin boosters,” said McCurdy, an aerospace engineering student. “I feel through the roof. Best day of the week by far, maybe the month.”
The dogs also got an endorphin boost of their own. For the first time since reopening The Swamp unveiled its “Doggy Dining” menu. Dogs can have a Barky Bowl, Doggone Salmon or a Pup Cup filled with whip cream.
“(Theo) really enjoyed his food,” Faithful Friends volunteer Lauren Findley said, “He really just scarfed it down. He loved it. Very happy boy.”
Theo joined Faithful Friends malnourished (25 pounds underweight), but he recently achieved adoptable status.
Findley, who has volunteered with the pet rescue organization for three years, often goes to PetSmart on Saturdays for adoption events. Wednesday night was another chance for people to meet Theo and see what the program’s all about.
Organizations like Earth Pets Natural Pet Market donated to build pet-themed prize baskets, of which all proceeds from the $5 raffle tickets went to Faithful Friends.
Through charity and community, many enjoyed the wholesomeness of the event.
“I love that we do cutesy little things like this,” server Isa Mendieta said, “especially in a college town.”
Mendieta enjoyed the original Swamp her freshman year. Now a senior, she understands why people who have seen both versions think they look exactly alike.
Between the setup, Barktober Fest and the referee uniforms servers wear as Gator fans pack the restaurant on gameday, its owner said he’s proud to carry on a generational tradition.
“It’s really been overwhelming and humbling seeing all the people come out,” Prodesky said, “and tell stories about how they met their spouses here or now students are saying their parents have met here.”