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Trick Dog, a craft-cocktail bar located in the Mission, was opened last January by the Bon Vivants, the drink masters extraordinaire trio of Josh Harris, Scott Baird and Jason Henton. Highly anticipated and crowded from day one, it filled a niche in the 20th Street Corridor that the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group (flour+water, Central Kitchen and Salumeria) couldn’t: a full bar with artisinal cocktails.
Together since 2009, the Bon Vivants are a recognized cocktail and spirits consulting company that helps put together bar programs and acts as a beverage “evangelist” for select brands. It took them three years to open Trick Dog, named after a row of antique mechanical coin banks holding court over the bar, as a showcase establishment of their expertise. The earthquake-retrofitted two-story building has a steam-punk décor with plenty of rustic wood and Edison bulb lamps, complete with non-functional beveled-gear fixtures.
They don’t just print a choice of cocktails on a sheet of paper; instead they think up unique approaches to present their craft. Initially, their now-legendary drink menu was printed as a Pantone color book, similar to the kind you would find at home improvement stores. The idea came to them when they were selecting paint for their walls. However, the expensive palettes were disappearing faster than they could reprint them, so they switched over to an equally distinctive format of a record album. They found old 45 RPM records and reprinted the original labels, keeping the artist and song title, but adding in the ingredients of the drinks. Each disc could easily be pulled out of the record sleeve for closer inspection, also making it easier to replace if and when one or two records disappear as someone’s souvenir.
The cocktails themselves also changed when it went from the pantone to record album, reflecting some of the seasonal nature of their bar program. Each of the cocktails are unique creations, some with so many ingredients that you wonder how it all goes together, but they all come out perfectly balanced. Current drink choices include the J. Geil Band’s Centerfold (Old Grandad Bourbon, Peach Cordial, bitters), Clash’s Bank Robber (Wild Turkey Rye, Ferraro Cognac, Bonal, bitters), and Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger (Tanqueray Gin, Malacca, house-made tropical vermouth). Judging by glasses held throughout the bar, the most popular drinks are Jen Knight’s Mr. Big Stuff (Calle 23 Reposadao Tequila, Gran Classico, bitters), an updated piña colada served in a vintage pineapple cup and ELO’s Evil Woman (Ancho Reyes chili liqueur, Black Grouse Scotch, Mandarin Napoleon, cinnamon, lime). They offer a few eclectic beer and wines by the glass choices, but the cocktails, all priced at $12, is the real reason to drink here. To save time from edging your way back to the bar, they have a couple of large format drinks in half-liter portions.
But Trick Dog is more than just a great bar — it is also an excellent full service restaurant offering great snacks and food meant to pair with cocktails. Atypically, the kitchen remains open until the bar closes at 2 in the morning. Chef Chester Watson, with a pedigreed background having worked as an Executive Sous-Chef at Quince, and in Las Vegas under master Chefs Alain Ducasse (Mix) and Joel Robuchon (The Mansion), is responsible for the upscale gastropub fare, all reasonably priced from $5 to $12. Snack items include Cracklins, crispy cooked pork belly bits coated with a mixture of brown sugar, spice and salt (a perfect bar snack to absorb the alcohol), and the highly recommended Thrice-Cooked French Fries (boiled and double fried) Manimal-style. Their ode to In-N-Out Burger bests the original, as the fries were super crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The piled-high Kale Salad with creamy avocado and crunchy pepitas might be the best in the city, with each individual leaf coated with a slow-cooked egg dressing.
Larger items include a Beef “Tartare,” where chopped sirloin has been cooked in a sous-vide water bath to a perfect rareness, and an unexpected Rice Plate consisting of a Japanese fried yaki onigiri style rice cake topped with ginger chicken and pickled daikon. Also enticing were the Brawn Tacos, featuring fried headcheese dressed with Kewpie mayo; and the Scotch Egg, encased in brandade fish and set atop a beet confit nest.
The crowds ebb and flow (mostly flow), and the bartenders and waitstaff are very attentive to getting everyone’s order. There are not many seats in the downstairs area, but there is room for 20 diners upstairs for a more conventional eating experience. Tables are covered with white cloths; but, service and food are casual, so don’t expect plates and silverware to be changed between courses. The wait for a table is generally not long considering the large crowd, which seems to prefer staying downstairs. Just be forewarned that the entire interior is lively, so don’t expect to hold intimate conversations over the din.
Bon Vivant literally means a “good liver,” as in someone who enjoys the finest things in life — although a healthy hepatic organ is also required! The Bon Vivants definitely live up to their name, providing excellent cocktails and food. The drinks are all very interesting, as many are an alchemy of more than one base liquor and a variety of elements that certainly require precision to attain balance. The cocktails might be the reason to come to Trick Dog, but the reasonably priced food is equally great making a trip to the 20th Street corridor even more interesting as a dining destination.