At last, Trick Dog is back open, serving up its excellent cocktails in the Mission District, after a long, 20-month closure. And the menu is appropriately about pandemics, the Fates, and "the string of time."
Some of the best and most acclaimed cocktail bars in the city went into long pandemic hibernations, including Comstock Saloon, which just reopened last week in North Beach, and Whitechapel, which only reopened a mere two weeks ago. The owners of these bars wagered that it might be a few extra months before people would be out in force, ordering craft cocktails and chilling in crowded indoor spaces again. By and large, that has been happening elsewhere in the city since the summer, with the addition of vaccination proof being required for entry as of August. But it may have been wise to wait out some of the slow recovery, especially with a lot of people not working in the same 9-to-5 patterns anymore.
Trick Dog, like those other bars, didn't bother trying to do outdoor service — despite having a kitchen that would have fulfilled the former food-service requirement — or opening partly indoors with table service when that was allowed.
"I felt kind of afraid that if we did things like [serve drinks outside in plastic cups], that it would reflect poorly on us, for the people that had high expectations of us, that we wouldn't be able to meet them," Harris says.
Instead, in the last 10 months, Trick Dog has been operating as Quik Dog, basically a high-end fast-food and delivery operation serving some of the favorites from the original Trick Dog food menu, including the elongated Trick Dog Burger (modeled after the iconic one served at the Olympic Club golf course), and the kale salad, as well as new items like chicken nuggets and a fried chicken sandwich.
While the kitchen has been operational, Harris says he lost most of his staff to other jobs or other cities over the last 20 months, so staffing up a bar that requires a fair amount of cocktail-making skill was another obstacle. But as of Halloween weekend, Trick Dog is quietly back open, with the bar helmed by Nick Amano-Dolan, Drew Record, and Jen Colliau.
The latest cocktail menu — as fans know, the bar has changed out the menu every six months since it opened eight years ago, with each iteration being as artful, original, and complex as the last — was designed by Eva Edgren and James Lewis Tucker and hand printed by Tucker's firm, The Aesthetic Union.
It has the aesthetic of 17th or 18th century block-printed treatise on philosophy, and the drinks are divided into four groups, themed around philosophical topics: Divinity, Rationality, Creative Expression, and Hedonism. Under Rationality, there are several spirit-forward drinks, including a "Fibonacci series" of three Manhattan variations, with ratios based on the Fibonacci sequence. Under Creative Expression, there are four drinks named after Italian Renaissance artists who also happen to give their names to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
"The string of life runs through the outcomes of the past," reads some text at the bottom. "Throughout the centuries, pandemics have shaped the world, The first and second Plague, Yellow Fever and Spanish Flu, in turn gave us the Reformation, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, and the Roaring Twenties. These show that a sudden change in the fabric of the world can spark great minds or awaken our inner animals."
"We are nearing the end of this thread; where do we go from here? It's up to us to stitch our mutual futures together."
Harris sounds relieved and satisfied with the work that's been done to reopen, and he tells SFGate, "I honestly feel more professional confidence and personal exhilaration with this reopening than maybe I’ve ever felt."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Mission at Valencia and 17th, the Bon Vivants team recently opened Chezchez, in the space that had been occupied by Bon Voyage! — and the cocktail bar with a food menu centered on tin fish and cocktail apps has been an immediate hit, and sports a bunch of outdoor seating.
See the complete new Trick Dog menu below, and note that the Quik Dog food menu is still available as well, on-site or for takeout and delivery.
Trick Dog is now open 4 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week, and the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.
Top photo via Josh Harris/Instagram