Trick Dog


San Francisco’s ever-eclectic and critically acclaimed Mission District cocktail bar Trick Dog is no stranger to “best of” lists, especially when it comes to the Spirited Awards, the cocktail industry’s program recognizing the year’s best bars, bartenders, writers and experts.

After coming up short in the Spirited Award’s World’s Best Cocktail Menu category in both 2015 and 2016, Trick Dog is taking home the title in 2017, an achievement co-owner Scott Baird said reflects the bar’s meticulous and oddly laissez-faire creative attitude when it comes to their bi-annual menus.

“It’s an amazing feeling to have your peers vote for you in this way,” he said.

Be it the current Seussian influence on the Trick Dog children’s book/menu with its rhyming cocktails, the art show that was the Trick Dog Mural Project earlier this year, the popular Trick Dog for President in 2016, or 2015’s dog calendar iteration, the bar’s eccentric menus and unpredictable direction continue to pull in accolades.

Trick Dog was also the only San Francisco cocktail bar to win an award this year.

Like Tweet GPlus Pin



By Hamish Smith

As a description, ‘volume bar’ often doesn’t do a cocktail bar justice. There is nothing more compelling in the bar business than witnessing a venue that hosts hoards of punters and keeps them happy. It is hospitality’s master trick. It is also the trick of Trick Dog.

On the weekend this place heaves – sometimes three or four deep at the bar – yet it never feels claustrophobic. Trick Dog is framed by the walls of an old factory which, before the Bon Vivants (Josh Harris, Scott Baird and Jason Henton) got the keys, had spent a decade with no roof but plenty of pigeons. A tall building, with a triple-height ceiling, this place could host a half-dozen giraffes, no trouble at all.

Head bartender Kim Roselle dances through the orders with the speed of a club-bartender and the dexterity of a gymnast. Her and her team’s job is not as simple as in other volume bars. The drinks – this year’s menu has an American theme – are eclectic affairs, taking in half a dozen otherwise unfamiliar ingredients in the glass. Take the Morning in America – vodka, Tempus Fugit, Kina L’Avion d’Or, grapefruit, vanilla, marjoram and lime. You need a well-oiled machine to dispatch these drinks before a baying crowd.

This kind of humming atmosphere doesn’t happen by accident – it’s stage-managed to perfection by the Bon Vivant management. The décor has that industrial chic look that feeds the high energy and the playlist is pitch perfect – Motown, funk, soul and mid-century American rock – keeping the tide of customers swaying as they roll and break around the bar.

Like Tweet GPlus Pin


Trick Dog’s first menu, inspired by Pantone swatches.

Ordering a cocktail at Trick Dog is almost as much fun as drinking one. You could find yourself navigating a tourist map of San Francisco or rotating a horoscope wheel with a different drink for each Zodiac sign. But there’s a method behind the playful menu concepts.

“Having the menu be a little bit silly really helps to set people’s expectations that it’s not a stodgy, stuffy place where you can’t talk loud or you have to be wearing a bow tie,” says Morgan Schick, creative director of the Bon Vivants, the team behind Trick Dog.

Every six months, the San Francisco bar introduces a new menu that features 12 drinks. This gives people time to develop a relationship with the bar and work their way through the cocktails over time, according to Josh Harris, founding partner of the Bon Vivants.

“We didn’t want to have a long novel of hundreds of cocktails,” says Harris. “We also knew that we didn’t just want to have an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper.”

Trick Dog’s 2014 zodiac-inspired menu paired a dozen drinks with their corresponding astrological signs. All photos courtesy of Trick Dog.

Schick, who has a background in graphic design, says their team approaches the menu’s design with the same care they use when selecting the glassware and ice. Menus that require extra interaction are another way to connect with the people on the customer side of the bar.

“If you have a piece of paper with 12 drinks written on it, that’s about as easy a way to present information as you can imagine,” Schick says. “Whereas, if you have to twist a wheel to expose them or flip through a book of records, it’s less functional in a basic way, but it definitely increases people’s involvement with it because you can’t grab it, scan it and toss it away.”

The latest version of Trick Dog’s cocktail menu features bulldogs in sunglasses, corgis in rainbow pants, patriotic golden retrievers, and a cocktail for each of them.

Every menu design touches on something that’s part of people’s lives outside of the bar experience. Right now, the menu is a 2016 dog calendar—each cocktail corresponds to that month’s canine. Everyone is familiar with how a calendar works, so there’s no confusion about how to use the menu.

“We pay a significant amount more attention than one might think to the usability of the menu,” says Harris. “And that was a lesson we learned when we did the record menu, which was our second menu.”

The menu based on the team’s favorite records was more difficult to use than they anticipated. It was a book containing 12 records, one for each drink on the menu. When people flipped through the book, records would often fall out. Not everyone understood the song names on the records were the names of the drinks. The team has taken pains to make sure future menus are fun without sacrificing clarity.

When it comes to finding the sweet spot between whimsy and function, the team says the Chinese restaurant menu concept is their favorite. That menu included photos of each drink with the name written Chinese characters alongside a phonetic pronunciation and item number. Harris says the photos opened people up to cocktails they might not have tried before.

The Chinese menu concept, which paired photos of each drink with an item number and a phonetic pronunciation.

“While there may be cocktail ingredients you don’t know in this drink, you also see that it is brown and has a big ice cube, and you know that there’s whiskey. And while you don’t know what this other thing is, you like Old Fashioneds so you might give this one a shot,” Harris says. “It got us thinking about the way that people engage in these different drinks and how clearly can you spell it out through the menu in ways that are not so on the nose.”

So how did they decide to create a menu based on a Pantone color swatchbook? And how did they figure out what a cocktail inspired by a Corgi wearing a rainbow tutu tastes like? Harris and Schick figure all that out with Bon Vivants co-founder Scott Baird and Trick Dog bar manager Caitlin Laman.

“We all talk about how stupid we think each other’s ideas are, and we take a piece of one idea and a piece of another and a piece of another,” Harris says. “They sort of lead us to wormhole into a place where everyone starts to align and ultimately one of those ideas pops out.”

Their goal is to create an exciting menu that’s also easy to use in a dark bar on a crowded Saturday night. When suddenly everyone starts riffing on different aspects of the same idea, the team knows they’ve hit the jackpot. It’s this collaborative spirit that has led the Trick Dog team to building menus that go above and beyond standard, disposable drink menus.

The tri-fold tourist map from mid-2014, with drinks corresponding to attractions like the Castro Theatre and the Painted Ladies.

Like Tweet GPlus Pin


It’s the only way we’re going to get through this election cycle


It’s time for Trick Dog’s bi-annual menu reveal, in which The Bon Vivants (owners of Trick Dog, and prolific bar consultants) completely change up the cocktail menu and accompanying theme. The last theme was “conspiracy theories,” with drinks like “Big Foot,” and “Chemtrails.” Past menus have been a calendar of dogs, Chinese takeout menus, Pantone swatches, and other unlikely mediums.

This time it’s “Trick Dog for President 2016,” an all-out campaign to “put another clown in the White House.” In this case, that’s the clown from the vintage cast-iron piggy bank from which the bar derives its name (pictured at right). Accordingly, the drink menu comes in two forms: an American flag, and a collection of campaign buttons. Drinks are named after political slogans, like the “I am not a crook,” featuring tequila, peach, garam masala, soda, and lime, and the “Didn’t Inhale,” made with Japanese whisky, LoFi Gentian Amaro, manzanilla sherry, blackberry, and wakame, served up.

There is also a selection of low- and no-proof drinks, as well as boilermakers, shots, and highballs. If you’re feeling patriotic and thirsty, the whole shebang goes live at 3 p.m. today (July 7).

Trick Dog for President 2016
Like Tweet GPlus Pin


Like clockwork, Trick Dog’s bi-annual concept and menu refresh launched this week

Andrew Dalton, Eater SF

Jul 10, 2015, 12:45p

Acclaimed local cocktail bar Trick Dog and their barroom creative agency the Bon Vivants have unleashed their latest cocktail menu and concept upon the Mission. Previous concepts have come in the form of Pantone swatches, vinyl records, Zodiac signs, a San Francisco tourist map and finally a Chinese takeout menu. The latest Summer/Fall concept, however, is going straight for the cute vein with Trick Dogs, a 2016 dog-of-the-month calendar featuring the actual pets of owners Josh Harris, Morgan Schick and chef Thomas McNaughton of Flour + Water and Central Kitchen.

The menu design is sparse, as you might expect from a cheap promotional calendar, and features a cocktail for every month inspired by each pet. January’s adorable Labradoodle “Raja” gets a drink featuring Jameson Black, Gran Classico, shiso, vanilla, lemon, white sage and egg white. For June, calendar pup and Pride Corgi “Waffles” gets Junipero Gin, Doulin Rouge, vermouth, bitters, soda and Trick Dog cup (a mix of apple, cucumber, tea, hibiscus and fig). Representing July, “Comet” has a staggering ingredient list with Fighting Cock bourbon, Amaro Lucano, blackberry, Shiraz, Dale’s Pale Ale, chipotle, lemon, and sharp cheddar — so at least we can say the cocktails Trick Dog is known for haven’t gotten any less complex.

Because these menu updates are essentially instagrammable advertisements for the bar itself, each dog/drink features its own hashtag. At the end of the year, the most hashtaggable dog will be crowned Trick Dog’s Best in Show and will, according to a press release, “be celebrated with treats, scratches, and other yet-to-be-determined prizes.” It’s not just for the likes though: copies of the menu are also for sale for $20 at the bar and 100% of the proceeds from menu sales will go to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and Northern California Family Dog Rescue

Like Tweet GPlus Pin


Get to the bottom of cocktails based on conspiracy theories.


Just in time for the weekend comes Trick Dog‘s newest menu. The Bon Vivants, the quirky crew behind the Mission cocktail bar, have landed on the theme of “Top Secret” for their bi-annual menu update (the former menu was a calendar of dogs, with each month featuring different cocktails inspired by each pet).

This time the menu is inspired by conspiracy theories unearthed by the fictional Bureau of Advanced Research & Conspiracy (also known as BARC…see what they did there?) and is manifested as a series of classified government files. Featured theories include Bigfoot, Area 51 and the “Elvis is still alive” rumor. (Incidentally, today would have been the classic crooner’s 81st birthday. Coincidence?) The Bon Vivants are nothing if not committed, including some “never-before-seen” photos and videos to accompany the new menu. Check out the SF sasquatch sightings in the video below.

And, in addition to the barrage of incredibly social media-friendly materials that accompany it, there appears to be some tasty cocktails at the end of this top secret rainbow. Drinks like Chemtrails (Old Grand-Dad Bonded bourbon, grapefruit, caramel corn and lemon juice) and Moon “Landing” (Rutte Celery gin, mango falermouth, sparkling wine) are particularly compelling, though there’s a plethora of intriguing, paranoid-sounding beverages to choose from. There’ll also be low- and no-proof beverages, and a piña colada for two in a hollowed-out pineapple. And, being the accommodating fellows that they are, the recipes for the new cocktails can be found on their website (though good luck making that ginger reishi mushroom syrup).

The menu went live today at 3 p.m. EST, so get out there and get weird at Trick Dogs immediately.

Like Tweet GPlus Pin



February 18, 2015

All the Bay Area nominees for the food world’s equivalent of the Oscars.

It’s official: the James Beard Foundation has released its list of semifinalists in the 2015 Restaurant and Chef Awards, via livestream, and the Bay Area is once again well-represented. Lazy Bear and The Progress have both been longlisted for Best New Restaurant, while Manresa’s Jessica Largey and La Folie’s Jeremy Wayne are both in the running for Rising Star Chef. And of course, we’ve got talent to spare in the more august Best Chef: West and Best Restaurant categories, with a whopping nine chefs or chef teams and three restaurants (Acquerello, Greens, and Gary Danko) in the running from the Bay Area. (By comparison, L.A. has six and zero, respectively.)

Other newcomers to the running of the Beards include Traci des Jardins for Outstanding Chef, Bill Corbett and Ron Mendoza for Outstanding Pastry Chef, Russell Moore and Jennifer Puccio for Best Chef: West, La Toque for Outstanding Wine Service, Acquerello for Outstanding Restaurant, and Aubergine, Perbacco, and Saison for Outstanding Service. Perbacco and Barbacco’s Umberto Gibin has made an entry into the Restaurateur category, as has Michael Mina, with his panoply of SF restaurants.

As usual, we have our share of longlist bridesmaids as well: A16 and Press for wine, Bar Agricole and Trick Dog for cocktails, Belinda Leong and William Werner in the pastry category, Nancy Oakes and Michael Tusk for Outstanding Chef. But some other folks who made the list last year didn’t qualify this go-round, including James Syhabout for Best Chef: West, Foreign Cinema for Outstanding Restaurant, and restaurateurs Cindy Pawlcyn and Larry Mindel. And while Aziza’s Mourad Lahlou is present and accounted for, pastry chef and longtime Beard player Melissa Chou is oddly missing.

Over the next month, this “long list” will be paired down, with finalists announced Tuesday, March 24. The winners of the Chef and Restaurant awards will be announced at the official Awards Gala & Reception on Monday, May 4, 2015 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago (the first time the ceremony has been held outside of NYC).

Outstanding Bar Program
Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston
Arnaud’s French 75 Bar, New Orleans
Bar Agricole, San Francisco
Barmini, Washington, D.C.
Butcher and the Rye, Pittsburgh
Cane & Table, New Orleans
Canon, Seattle
Clyde Common, Portland, OR
The Dead Rabbit, NYC
The Franklin Mortgage & Investment Co., Philadelphia
The Hawthorne, Boston
Kimball House, Decatur, GA
Maison Premiere, Brooklyn, NY
The Other Room, Lincoln, NE
The Patterson House, Nashville
Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Portland, ME
Tørst, Brooklyn, NY
Trick Dog, San Francisco
The Varnish, Los Angeles
The Violet Hour, Chicago

Like Tweet GPlus Pin


By Michael Bauer
September 18, 2014


The first thing that occurred to me as I was standing at the bar at Trick Dog, waiting for a table upstairs, was that a great bartender is like a great chef — a person who can take seemingly disparate ingredients and make them into a unified whole.

At Trick Dog, the subject of my Update review in today’s Chronicle,  I was as blown away by the cocktails as I was the bar-centric food. Who knew that you could take bourbon, apple, lavender, kombu and horseradish, and make it into something special? If attempted at many other places, it would probably be a disaster.

The restaurant has been open less than two years, and it completely changes the menu twice a year using a clever delivery system for inspiration. The original cocktails were named after colors on the Pantone wheel; that was followed by concoctions named and printed on record jackets. Next came horoscopes. The current one is a map of San Francisco, with each cocktail named after a landmark.

The food under new chef Michael Logan is more straightforward than it was originally but hits all the right notes for the venue. The Trick Dog rises to the top of the burger heap; it’s a log of ground beef served in a sesame hot dog bun, with shredded lettuce, onions, pickles, cheddar cheese and house sauce. The kale salad, rich with an egg yolk dressing with loads of Parmesan cheese and avocado, is equally as appealing. You can also get Nashville-style fried chicken and other things that soak up the alcohol and prepare you for another of the staff’s creative cocktails.

By Michael Bauer for Inside Scoop SF


Like Tweet GPlus Pin


By Michael Bauer
March 31, 2013

John Storey, Special to the Chronicle

“I asked my bartender friends where I should go for a drink,” said the rakish man sitting at the counter chatting with the tattooed bartender, “and all of them said Trick Dog.” He was nursing a cocktail and had just finished the Trick Dog, an ingenious hamburger in a hot dog bun.

“That’s great to hear,” the bartender replied, between shaking and stirring drinks with the precise cadence of a robot.

Looking around the room, it was clear others have gotten similar messages – even on a Wednesday night when it was still light outside, the two-level space was packed.

The mezzanine, where there are normally tables and chairs to seat 20, and well-trained waiters who are adept at answering questions and keeping the cocktails and food flowing, was closed for a private party hosted by Campari; downstairs, all 12 barstools were filled and it was standing room only. After several maneuvers, we carved out a corner of the bar to stand and have a bite.

The name Trick Dog comes from two scarred mechanical banks occupying a place of honor over the bar. More than two years in the making, it’s the result of an ambitious project from Jason Henton, Scott Baird and Josh Harris – a.k.a. the Bon Vivants. It’s the latest addition to the burgeoning artisan food neighborhood around 20th and Florida streets, joining Central Kitchen and Salumeria and an upcoming Sightglass Coffee cafe.

The owners have turned a warehouse space into an industrial wonder, courtesy of Wylie Price Design. They utilized the large-paned warehouse windows, and accented the interior with clear Edison lights hung between the wooden ceiling rafters, 1950s office-style metal and vinyl-upholstered chairs around the white-clothed mezzanine tables, and sconces created from vintage shade-cutters. The bannister leading upstairs was nabbed from the old Warfield.

Even before the first drinks were poured, the interior alone had garnered loads of publicity, including a full-page spread in The Chronicle’s Style section.

Based on the care given to the design – and the owners’ pedigree – it was almost a given the cocktails would be precisely crafted – which they are.

The selection is listed on a Pantone color wheel, with each drink named after the colors. Alligator Alley ($12) features olive oil-infused gin, vermouth quinquina (a bitter) and green Chartreuse. A tall, cool Straw Hat ($11) blends vermouth, Calvados, hard cider, chestnut honey and a hint of rosemary. The bartenders can make a pretty terrific margarita and Negroni, too.

The wine list features four selections, starting at $34, and beer veers from Erdinger Weissbier from Germany ($5) to Old Milwaukee ($3). While the choices are adequate, the soul of the business is the meticulous cocktails.

What was less clear when the place opened was how chef Chester Watson’s creations would play into the equation. He’s written a short menu that’s the food equivalent of the cocktails. Every ingredient has a purpose and every dish is designed to enhance or soak up the alcohol from the cocktails.

I learned just about all I needed to know when the radishes ($6) arrived, well scrubbed and chilled, their crunchy bitterness made for cocktails. They were served with the greens attached and were flanked by a dish of whipped butter flavored with dehydrated Campari on one side, and house-smoked Maldon sea salt on the other.

The kale salad ($9) is uncompromisingly bold, an enormous mound of chopped greens glazed with a dressing creamy from egg yolks, allowing the flavors to coat and cling to each ribbon of greens. Chunks of avocado, toasted pumpkin seeds and a dusting of Parmesan kept the dish interesting and continually revived the palate.

Watson also offers typical bar snacks, but has rethought and improved them, as in his beer nuts ($5) – Spanish peanuts candied in Miller High Life, orange zest and chiles.

He gives pimiento cheese spread ($5) a tang with Cheddar cheese and heat with Spanish cherry peppers reinforced with garlic and Carpano Antico sweet vermouth. Alongside are toasts, carrot coins, endive leaves and bite-size lengths of celery – the perfect pairing for that spread. The match might not be foie gras and Sauternes, but it’s a close second.

The chef has also created his version of Scotch eggs ($10), a soft-boiled egg wrapped in brandade and nestled in chopped beets with a swipe of creme fraiche and salmon roe off to one side.

On one visit, he served a ragout of peas and mushrooms ($8) with bacon, green garlic and Thai basil. On another visit, the menu included asparagus ($10) with a soft-cooked egg draped over the top.

The food mixes cultures, but it feels natural. For the Brawn Tacos ($10), soft corn tortillas are stuffed with headcheese and pickled vegetables. A rice plate ($12) tops a sticky rice cake with lemongrass pork, pickled carrots, shiitake mushrooms and mustard seed.

Every dish is robust and makes sense in a crowded bar setting. The elongated burger is made with sirloin, chuck and brisket; it’s cooked on a flat-top griddle and placed in a buttered and toasted sesame hot dog bun with mild cheddar cheese and a chow chow sauce.

Yet no matter which dish you choose, you have to order the thrice-cooked fries ($5) – Kennebec potatoes that are boiled, fried twice and served with that chow chow sauce and ketchup.

Dessert is an ice cream flavor that changes daily ($4); on one visit, it was curry and cried out for one of the sherries on the menu.

I’ve had lots of great cocktails around the Bay Area, but no food I’ve tasted is as symbiotic with the setting as what’s offered at Trick Dog. That’s why, despite the fact that it’s basically a bar, Trick Dog deserves a three-star review.

By Michael Bauer for the San Francisco Chronicle

Like Tweet GPlus Pin