Trick Dog – San Francisco
The Takeaway: The ever-changing menu makes it fun and exciting to come back to each time. Sometimes this means the drinks may be a bit inconsistent, but when they knock it out of the park, they do it with aplomb. Crowded, but what San Francisco bar isn’t?
Trick Dog is never stale, with a constantly evolving cocktail menu designs and cocktails. Its semi-annual menu release is always highly anticipated, and has taken inspiration from everything including the Chinese zodiac to collaborations with local San Francisco artists to a recent illustrated children’s book. The seismic changes between menus could easily make the bar seem schizophrenic and risks poor service, but the bartenders here are highly skilled and keep pace.
In anticipation of Tales of the Cocktail, we visited Trick Dog, which is nominated in the Spirited Awards as the “Best American Cocktail Bar” presented by Pernod Ricard. Its most recent release features a flight menu featuring drinks inspired by major airports around the world. I found the drink descriptions surprising, with ingredients diverging from a more expected strict location-faithful approach and simply geared for taste: Plymouth gin is used in a Japanese airport (Kansai) cocktail; Bols genever and Pierre Fernand cognac are used in a Moscow-inspired drink (vodka is instead the base of the Stockholm airport drink); and so on.
To sample the menu, we selected a brandy highball, a PIK (Prestwick Glasgow), a CDG (Charles de Gual), and a BOS (Boston Logan).
The brandy highball was a miss (although it was fun getting the mini-bottles of New York Seltzer Black Cherry and Glasshouse Shiso brandy and mixing them ourselves). The drink, unfortunately, ends up being overly sweet, even with a heavy pour of brandy-to-Seltzer ratio… tasting a bit like cheap candy.
Meanwhile, the PIK Glasgow might be one of the best drinks we have had in months. This is a serious statement for experienced drinkers. The drink is complex, layered, balanced, and difficult to pinpoint the ingredients from tasting alone. One of the knockout components of the drink is Islay falernum bitters, which the bartender let us try. From what we can remember, the recipe is a standard homemade falernum, but with Islay scotch instead of rum.
The other two, BOS and CDG, were good but less memorable. Main takeaways were – BOS: “If you taste the nutmeg, there’s too much nutmeg” and CDG was comparable to a sweeter negroni. Both were potable, but the PIK had set our expectations higher.
The only downside to the changing menu and Trick Dog’s popularity is that the bar is almost-always packed, with little room to maneuver and scant opportunity to chat with the bartenders, who are busy shaking and stirring the orders from the throng of patrons jostling for their attention. This is standard fare for most of San Francisco’s top cocktail bars, and coming here upon opening (5pm) is generally the only way to ensure a comfortable and more leisurely visit.