On a quiet street in a mainly residential part of San Francisco’s Mission District, you’ll unexpectedly find one of the hottest bars in America. Trick Dog, which opened in January, is packed shoulder-to-shoulder night after night, with locals, visiting bartenders, and the cocktail curious. The hype, which built over the two years since the project was announced, is more than justified.
Not bad given that it is the first establishment from owners Josh Harris and Scott Baird and that neither had planned on a life behind the stick. Harris, a San Francisco native, originally was going to be a lawyer and Baird, an East Bay native, set out to be a chef. Both discovered a love for mixology, and they worked at some of the city’s top watering holes, famously including a stint together at 15 Romolo.
All that changed in 2009, when Harris was offered a bar-consulting gig, and as he points out, "That’s not the same as making drinks." He turned to Baird and said, "If we do it together, maybe we’ll do a better job." Baird thought so, too, and their avant-garde spirits and consulting biz, The Bon Vivants, was born.
"It was exciting to see what we could do with The Bon Vivants," Baird recalls. A whole lot, it turns out. In addition to throwing legendary philanthropic Pig & Punch parties at Tales of the Cocktail and the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, they share their booze savvy with a number of liquor brands and create cocktail menus for joints around town — including Mexican hot spot Comal in Berkeley and the Rio Grande pop-up in the Renoir Hotel.
But their most thrilling venture yet, with operations partner Jason Henton, is the aforementioned Trick Dog. The bi-level bar is housed in an attractive industrial space featuring iron banisters, genius sliding shelves, and a mezzanine perch. Its cleverly named libations — inspired by Pantone paint-color swatches — are both intriguing and expertly made.
I liked the delicate Alligator Alley (olive-oil infused Broker’s Gin, Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth, Kina L’Avion d’Or Quinquina, Green Chartreuse) and the robust, translucent Polar Bear (Pierde Almas La Puritita Mezcal, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, Tempus Fugit Spirits Crème de Menthe, angelica tincture).
Yet, as Harris is quick to point out, "This is not a great cocktail place; this is a great drinking place. We hopefully have enough here — wine, beer, house-made sodas — that you will find something you want to drink." That’s not to mention a well-edited list of gourmet takes on bar snacks, including tempura-fried head cheese and thrice-cooked fries.
Up next for the duo: General Beverage Company. The opening date hasn’t been determined, but Harris assures me The Bon Vivants’ first retail space will carry items like glassware, marmalade, books and, naturally, "all things imbibe-able." I can’t wait for it to open.
This story was originally published at Raising the Bar: Josh Harris and Scott Baird. For more stories like this join Liquor.com and drink better. Plus, for a limited time get How to Cocktail in 2013, a cocktail recipe book — free! Join now.