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 Pisces, one of the specialty cocktails named after an astrological sign. $12

The Pisces, one of the specialty cocktails named after an astrological sign. $12

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

2.5snaps

 

 

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

We got there early on a Friday afternoon to beat the crowds. People already took up all the colorful bar stools.

We got there early on a Friday afternoon to beat the crowds. People already took up all the colorful bar stools.

Liquor selection at the bar.

Liquor selection at the bar.

The Aries, made of Pierde Almas mezcal,rum, black tea bitters, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

The Aries, made of Pierde Almas mezcal,rum, black tea bitters, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Cool lighting over the bar is some of the highlights that have given the bar's design a lot of recognition.

Cool lighting over the bar is some of the highlights that have given the bar’s design a lot of recognition.

Cauliflower steaks with curry, brown butter puree, currants and pine nuts, $7

Cauliflower steaks with curry, brown butter puree, currants and pine nuts, $7

Tat ordered another drink, not from the astrological sign menu. This was called the Pink Moon ($10) made with vermouth. It didn't really look so pink.

Tat ordered another drink, not from the astrological sign menu. This was called the Pink Moon ($10) made with vermouth. It didn’t really look so pink.

Korean BBQ pork shoulder on rice cake, $12

Korean BBQ pork shoulder on rice cake, $12

Early Friday night crowd at the popular Trick Dog

Early Friday night crowd at the popular Trick Dog

 

5 Responses to Review of Trick Dog Bar in San Francisco

  1. Carolyn Jung says:

    A hamburger in a hot dog bun? OK, is that like the ultimate hipster creation or what? Too funny. I, too missed trying the Panetone drink wheel. Hope they bring it back for an encore in the future.

    • Ben Ben says:

      I’d like to see the Pantone menu come back too! But at the same time I’m interested to see what they come up with after the astrology sign gets old.

  2. Tara says:

    Haha at Carolyn’s comment. I have to give you the name of this bar I went to for my friend’s birthday. They don’t serve food but theres a section in the bar without a menu and you just tell them what you like and they make you a custom drink. They cost $14 and are kind of small but it was delicious!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Tara, I think I remember reading about that bar on your blog. I love the idea of challenging bartenders to make you a custom drink. Let me know the next time you go! 😉

  3. Row says:

    Pretty cool spin on the bar menus! I’m going to look up Pantone wheel now. 🙂