Having taken the 35th spot on Drinks International’s list of the 50 Best Bars in the World last year, Trick Dog has never allowed itself to rest on its laurels (or hind legs). Always forcing itself to learn new tricks, the perpetually crowded craft cocktail den has issued its ninth menu in four years. Previous lenses into high-end drinking culture have included Pantone swatches, the signs of the zodiac, a puppy calendar, and a spoof on political buttons — and they’re always elaborate, well-designed efforts that link the creativity of the drinks themselves with winning, clever presentations. (Indeed, although it’s not quite Trick Dog’s mixological equal, only the wacky Space Age menu at Coin-Op in SoMa comes anywhere close to its graphic design acumen — and as a new venue, it’s only done it once.)
This go-round features something near and dear to the Mission: murals. You’ll find work by Sam Flores, Jeremy Fish, Mel Waters, Sirron Norris, and others, all of it distinctive in style even if you can’t immediately remember where you last rode by it. (Could be Pier 70; could be Market and Church streets.)
Apart from the Brian Barneclo (a $24, large-format tiki affair made with Torres 15-year Spanish brandy, Hidalgo oloroso sherry, pineapple, allspice, clarified malted milk, and lime), every drink will run you $13. Even a couple of years ago, that figure might have elicited grumbles, but considering Trick Dog’s increasingly secure spot in the pantheon, they’re to be commended. (The first menu was all $10 to $12.)
I make it a point to drink my way through a venue’s entire menu, although not necessarily in one sitting, but as ever, Trick Dog makes it especially hard. Because the drinks vary one from another, more than even other bars of its pedigree, it can be difficult to appreciate more than two properly. Truth be told, I’ve drawn wildly different conclusions about the same drink at Trick Dog, and I don’t think that’s because it was improperly made the first time.
But what you read on the menu may not be entirely what you get. It might be hard to conjure up a dominant flavor from the Jeremy Fish (Banks 5 rum, chai liqueur, Dolin dry vermouth, Luxardo Bianco bitter, acid phosphate, and mango bitters) but even though there’s nothing especially savory, the drink has a curious olive tapenade note. The Bigfoot is made with Automatic Sea gin, Arkansas Black applejack, Riesling, meyer lemon, lavender, and lime — but the most assertive flavor is nori. That’s because there’s a piece of it floating on the surface, but it’s also because Automatic Sea deliberately forages for nori to give its gin the taste of the ocean. It’s also, frankly, as hard as ever to grasp the connection between the drink and the mural scheme. Supporting local arts is always in good taste, but what, if anything, does this particular drink have to do with Bigfoot? Impossible to say.
Then again, being overly literal is as joylessly pedantic as a guy in a bar who keeps talking about how Bernie would have won Michigan and Wisconsin.
While Trick Dog repurposed the ceramic tiki glasses with the human head atop a barrel with a dog on it, the use of a heavy copper bird is pretty striking. But the Tunstall & Plock — Don Q Anejo rum, Four Square Port Cask rum, white chocolate, tapache, pineapple, rye berries, and lime — is the one in the head glass, and it’s the best drink overall.
Mexican pineapple beer really ought to be in more things.
Another of the finest drinks is also one with the fewest bells and whistles, served in a simple coupe: the
Mel Waters. Paired with an image of Jerry Garcia noodling on his guitar and bookended by roses, it’s a blood-red mix of Bulleit rye, blueberry bitter aperitivo, H&H Rainwater Madeira, black pepper, and rose hip, served with three skewered blueberries. It’s a stiff one, ever so slightly syrupy, and although framed as yet another take on a Negroni, some kind of Golden Ratio is in force between bitters and the acidic zap of rose hips.
That street art, though. As San Francisco’s murals will be a locus of political resistance as never before, it’s not hard to see a through-line between the prior menu’s buttons and slogans. Benefiting Creativity Explored and Precita Eyes Muralists, the project’s companion book — which also serves as the menu — sells for $45 and underwrites a worthy cause. If you use it as a coffee table tome to impress your houseguests, you’re going to want to make sure to lay down some coasters, too.
Constantly changing things up is a high-wire act, and we’re always impressed — no more so than with the expertise of the staff, forced to retrain their muscle memory every six months and come up with new fluidly efficient motions to serve a bustling bar at capacity. See you in July, Trick Dog.
Trick Dog, 3010 20th St., 415-471-2999 or trickdog.com