It sounds like the parody of a mixology bar. Cocktails are themed around the Pantone color guide — the darling of the design-blogging elite — and have long ingredient lists with inscrutable items like "West Indies tincture" and "Gold Rush bitters." The décor is all hipster industrial-chic: factory windows, Edison bulbs, mid-century chairs. Drinks seem to take about 20 minutes to make, and are mixed in laboratory beakers.
But damn if I didn't fall in love with Trick Dog, the Mission's newest hippest bar, the moment I walked in the door. A few things save the place from total self-parody, and one of them is the extremely competent hands of the people who run it. Josh Harris and Scott Baird are otherwise known as cocktail consultant duo The Bon Vivants, and they and their skilled staff manage to maintain their veneer of cool while staying friendly and on-task. It helps that the food and drinks are good enough to forgive any lingering pretensions.
One of these affectations is the elaborate menu, a fan book in the form of the aforementioned guide, featuring drinks named after colors like Vintage Photo and Gypsy Tan. The conceit works because the cocktails do. They contain so many interesting new flavors that working your way through the drink menu seems like an adventure. The Bon Vivants got the idea when they were figuring out paint colors for their bar, and the result is a fun and tactile play on a standard menu, though the books can get sticky with overuse.
The many and mysterious ingredients can seem overwhelming at first, but there's a cocktail for every drinker. The signature Pantone is made with beets and bourbon, and tastes refreshing and vegetal, like something from a juice cleanse. The dark red Pennies From Heaven is served in a pretty vintage cocktail glass, and despite its heavy spirits — it had rye, amaro, sour apple liqueur, sherry, and the Bon Vivants' own Gold Rush Bitters (their homage to the smells and flavors of that era in San Francisco history) — the aftertaste lingers on the nutty amontillado sherry. Tropical drink aficionados should try St. Elmo's Fire, a pineapple and rum concoction with a shot of coconut drinking vinegar that keeps the drink from devolving into a bad spring break flashback.
Some cocktails weren't my favorite, but were intriguing experiments in their own right. Vintage Photo has the bar's own banana cordial, rum, bitters, and the "West Indies tincture" (a concentrated alcohol inspired by a Jamaican spice blend). The banana isn't overpowering, but it's present, and the drink is a musky, bitter concoction that improved as the oversized ice cube melted. Night Moves combines chicory coffee with scotch, brown sugar, cream, and curry for a take on Irish coffee that had a distracting amount of curry powder in it. But the team still earns points for putting curry in a coffee drink.
The food menu seems more approachable — probably because it's printed on a boring-by-comparison half-sheet of cardstock — but chef Chester Watson manages to sneak in playful elements along with solid technique gleaned from his time in kitchens like Quince.
Fried food is the great standby of any bar menu, and Trick Dog's has plenty to go around. A Scotch egg is coated in brandade (flaky salt cod) instead of the traditional bread crumbs, adding depth to the traditionally one-note snack. French fries are fried twice, for super-crispy spuds that still taste of the Kennewick potatoes they're made from. Pork belly cracklings are fried and coated in a sweet-salty spice blend, and served with buffalo sauce that cuts through the fat.
If you want more than a few bites to soak up all the booze in your stomach, there's the Trick Dog, a hamburger on a hot dog bun named after a favorite childhood treat of Harris'. (You might think that's where the name of the bar comes from, but you'd be wrong — the actual namesake is a vintage piggy bank, also from Harris' childhood.) The burger's bun is buttered and toasted, and the meat is cooked to well-done; it's not the gourmet burger of most foodie fantasies, but it's greater than the sum of its parts.
And unlike most bars, the menu also has healthy options. A kale salad loaded with avocado and a creamy dressing's only crime was its abundance. Mushroom hummus comes with crudites and is moist and light, though a bit too heavy on the shroomy flavor.
Best of all, the kitchen is serving food until late — 1:30 a.m. every day — though a full meal is significantly easier in the colorful mezzanine where there's table service. (Good luck with anything beyond nibbles if you're standing downstairs.)
Trick Dog already feels like it's been in the neighborhood for much longer than a few weeks, and except for busy weekend nights when the music's turned up and the crush of young, tattooed, mustachioed people is too much to bear, it feels like a neighborhood bar, the kind of place where you can get to know the bartenders and the regulars. When it opens at 3 p.m., snagging a stool at the bar is easy. So is forgiving its quirks in the face of good taste.