Trick Dog, a craft-cocktail bar located in the Mission’s emerging 20th Street Corridor, was opened four months ago by drink masters extraoardinaire, the Bon Vivants Josh Harris, Scott Baird and Jason Henton. Set in the midst of the Ne Timeas Restaurant Group’s empire comprised of flour+water, Central Kitchen and Salumeria, they brought something the other restaurants don’t have: a full liquor license. Highly anticipated and crowded since the first day they opened, it warranted a visit. We did drive-bys a couple of times and were deterred by the lines. The 12 seats at the bar and 20 seats upstairs are the hottest tickets in town, but we finally made it into the standing-room only place on a Tuesday night.
We nabbed a corner of the bar where Bon Vivant Josh Harris just happened to be hanging around. Recently validated by a 3-star review from Michael Bauer in the Chronicle, Josh was beaming like a proud father and spent a few minutes sharing a lot of information and stories with us regarding the mission of the Bon Vivants and how Trick Dog came to life. The public story is that the bar-restaurant is named after a couple of antique mechanical banks holding court over the bar. But after hearing Josh relate how it’s taken them three years to open Trick Dog, we can’t help but think that it’s also named after all of the hoops they had to jump through to make it happen. The earthquake-retrofitted two-story wooden decor will likely win many architectural awards (notice the flaming lava bowl drink half-way down the bar):
Their now-legendary drink menu is printed like a Pantone color book, similar to the kind you would find at home improvement stores. Josh told us that the idea came to them when they were selecting paint for their walls:
We had selected three different drinks initially, and attentive barman Chad told us which two we should order. From that point on, we left ourselves in Chad’s capable hands for drink options. We were at the right place at the right time, since he made a “mistake” drink and handed it over to us while he made our actual orders. Lucky for us, because the Baby Turtle (Ocho Reposada Tequila, Campari, grapefruit, lime, egg white, nutmeg) was something we probably wouldn’t have ordered, but it was an excellent introduction to the greatness of their cocktails:
The Gypsy Tan (Rittenhouse 100 Rye, Mandarin Napoleon Orange Liqueur, Fernet Branca, Ginger, Lemon, Erdinger Weissbier, nutmeg) and the Pennies from Heaven (Templeton Rye, Meletti Amaro, Leopold Brothers Sour Apple Liqueur, Amontillado Sherry, Bon Vivant Gold Rush Bitters) made us true believers. There are a lot of ingredients in each drink, and some we would admit we would not prefer, but all of them mixed together made for excellent drinks. Note how the color strip matches the tint of the drink:
Trick Dog is more than just a great bar, it is also an excellent restaurant serving great snacks and food. Chef Chester Watson must be the hardest working chef since it seemed like he singlehandedly filled food orders all night long, and late night eats are served until the bar closes at 2 in the morning (we might have later spied another helper). Chef Watson has a serious 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). Notice the high pile of kale salad waiting for delivery:
Highly recommended by Josh (and since we are big fans of Campari), we started with the Radishes served with their greens still intact. The beautiful bunch of breakfast radishes were accompanied by butter flavored with dehydrated Campari and house-smoked Maldon sea salt. The bitterness of the radishes and their greens paired really well with the Rye cocktails:
Chad and Josh also mentioned that the radishes went best with an order of the Pimento Cheese, and boy were they right. This version of the Southern spread incorporated cheddar cheese, Spanish cherry peppers, garlic and Antica Carpano Vermouth. Belgian endive leaves, toast points, celery and carrots served as great vehicles for the spicy dip:
For the next round of drinks, Chad made a couple of off-the-menu items. The first was a Manhattan derivative (Whiskey, Mezcal, Aperol, Maraschino Liqueur), and the clear one is a variation of a Rum Martini (Rum, Dolin Vermouth, …) — a drink he is thinking of putting on the menu. Both of the drinks were a perfect balance of sweet and bitter:
We ordered the 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 Cracklins consisted of crispy cooked pork belly bits coated with a brown sugar, spice and salt mixture. Sriracha sauce dip served on the side added more spice, but wasn’t really necessary. The tasty popcorn pork is the perfect bar snack to absorb the alcohol:
We continued being amazed by the interesting combinations of flavors with the Witchwood (Torres 10 Yr. Brandy, Pampero Aniversario Rum, Manzanilla Sherry, Pedro Jimenez Sherry, Ron Miel Honey Rum, Alhambra Bitters) and the Pantone 7621 (Four Roses Bourbon, Combier, Kummel, Beet, ginger, lemon):
We would have ordered every item of the menu if we could have eaten them all. The portions are generous and we could have stopped with the four items, but the possibility of not getting back in for awhile made us man up and order the Beef “Tartare.” The quotation marks denote the fact that unlike traditional tartare, the chopped sirloin had been cooked in a sous-vide water bath to a perfect rareness. Mixed with cornichons, mustard and herbs, the egg yolk brought it all together:
After the excellent meal, we needed a Digestivo of some sort, and Chad mixed us one made with Cynar, Angostora Orange Bitters and Punt e Mes Vermouth. It was finished with the house-smoked Maldon sea salt strategically placed atop the giant ice cube. The bitterness was great and served as a perfect digestive aid:
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 likely require precision to attain balance.
The crowds do ebb and flow (mostly flow), and the bartenders and waitstaff are very attentive to getting everyone’s order. There are not many seats, but there is plenty of standing room plus counters lining the walls for those that don’t mind eating while standing up. The food is excellent and the unique bar program alone makes this a destination, even if you have to stand and wait in line.