The story: Making cocktails cool, Jason Henton, Scott Baird and Josh Harris – a.k.a. “the Bon Vivants” – created an eclectic playground called Trick Dog. Drawing crowds out the door since it opened in the booming food corridor of 20th and Florida Streets near Central Kitchen and Flour + Water, Trick Dog gained attention for its design as well as carefully crafted cocktails.
Why I went: Always wanted to try it when I heard the drinks menu were inspired by a Pantone wheel (design geeks will know what I mean), but finally decided I must go when Trick Dog was named one of four finalists for the 8th Annual “Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards” (supposedly the Oscars of the spirits world) in the categories of “Best American High Volume Cocktail Bar” and “Best American Bar Team.” (Winners will be announced July 19 in New Orleans.)
The vibe: Techie-hipster with a casual neighborhood feel, the warm woods and unusual ornaments add to the fun atmosphere. The narrow first floor bar can feel stifling at peak times, and the second-floor space confused me. It had an exclusive feel like you’re not allowed to go up there (I think the second floor gets reserved a lot for special parties).
The booze: Since it’s been open for awhile, Trick Dog has moved on to a new concept with the cocktail menu, namely the drinks are no longer based on Pantone colors. Instead, the bar menu is inspired by astrological signs, which, when you think about it, is a hilarious reference to the age-old bar line: “What’s your sign?” I’m an Aries, so I tried my drink made of mescal, anchor reyes, rum, Pedro Ximenez, and black tea bitters. I was with my friend Tat who didn’t drink his sign and instead ordered the Pisces, which had rum, agricole, grapefruit, celery and lime. The drinks were well-balanced and hit the spot, but somehow sounded better on paper than in the flesh.
The bar menu: The small bar menu provided some interesting bites, such as the curried cauliflower ($7), served up like mini steaks with brown butter puree, or the “rice plate” ($12) a Korean-inspired rice cake topped with Korean barbeque pork shoulder with kim chi and pickled shitake and mustard seed. Both dishes were expertly cooked with interesting flavors. Tat ordered the Trick Dog ($9), a hamburger served up in a hot dog bun, and he was less impressed.
My favorite dish: Has to be the cauliflower, partly because cauliflower is all the rage now and I’m a big fan of the vegetable. Even though I’m not a fan of curry, it was well-balanced. But I also liked the crispiness of the rice cakes.
The downside: Despite its popularity, this is still supposed to be a neighborhood bar, so the setup has everything centered at the bar. That means no servers take your order at the side counters, even for food. You have to order your food with a bartender behind the bar and motion to where you’re sitting or standing so they can direct the kitchen servers to bring your food there. It’s a bit casual, which works fine when not super busy, but must seem like a free-for-all when it’s super crowded.
The last bite: An unusual bar with cute spin on cocktails and food, but the crowds and small space can be too much. Luckily, the Bon Vivants’ popularity has meant they’ve got their hands in a lot of other bars around town so you can experience their influences elsewhere. Trick Dog is a great spot to hit early before dinner at either Central Kitchen or Flour + Water, but isn’t worth a special trip despite the hype.
The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Trick Dog, 3010 20th St., San Francisco. PH: 415.471.2999. Open 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. nightly. No reservations accepted. Major credit cards OK. www.trickdogbar.com
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