Survive the Election Season by Voting for This San Francisco Bar
The menu at Trick Dog in San Francisco. All photos by the author.

Survive the Election Season by Voting for This San Francisco Bar

Feeling burnt out by electoral backbiting? Refresh yourself at San Francisco's Trick Dog, where you'll find your politically charged drink orders printed on campaign button pins.
August 9, 2016, 4:00pm

The video starts like any other American political campaign ad. The sun rises over the Statue of Liberty, a kid runs through a field, and, obviously, a bald eagle is involved.

"It's time for a new direction in America," the narrator says. "Why vote for one of those clowns when you can vote for this clown?"

The clown the narrator is referring to isn't some rebel third party candidate. It's really a clown—set atop a cast iron piggy bank for which the San Francisco drinking institution Trick Dog was named.

Trick Dog founder Josh Harris named the bar after one of these vintage cast iron piggy banks (the clown usually holds a hoop for the mechanical jumping dog)._

Trick Dog founder Josh Harris named the bar after one of these vintage cast iron piggy banks. (The clown usually holds a hoop for the mechanical jumping dog). All photos by the author.

Trick Dog opened to a lot of buzz in 2013. It was a project coming from the masterminds of the Bon Vivants, a "nationally recognized cocktail, hospitality, marketing, and design firm" started by Scott Baird and Josh Harris in 2009.

Trick Dog was more than just another trendy Mission watering hole. Aesthetics were an integral part of the business plan.

"All of us involved with opening it are interested in design in general, and so we knew that we wanted a really cool-looking menu," said Bon Vivants creative director Morgan Schick of Trick Dog's early days.

Trick Dog manager Kim Roselle putting together drinks from the new menu_

Trick Dog manager Kim Roselle putting together drinks from the new menu.

The result of their design interest and cocktail expertise was a menu produced in the form of a Pantone swatch book. Drinks were named after whimsical colors like "Grandma's Sweater" and "Baby Turtle."

"We had decided to name them after paint colors because we had been building the place and had all of these paint books around and paints have really fun color names," Schick said.

The Pantone Menu was an immediate hit, and the team knew it had to live up to expectations with the next menu change. They couldn't just change the drinks and not the menu.

"We were going to change the drinks on the menu every six months and then we were like, Well, we can't do that again. That just can't be what our menu looks like," Schick said.

The Trick Dog drink menu goes through a complete transformation every six months_

The Trick Dog drink menu goes through a complete transformation every six months.

Following Pantone came themes like 45-RPM records, conspiracy theories, and a San Francisco tourist map. For its eighth round of drinks, Trick Dog looked to an old adage for inspiration. Instead of avoiding talk of politics in bars, they'd overtly talk about politics in bars.

Not only was the theme timely (re: the 2016 presidential election), but it looked good, too.

"A lot of thinking about what to do for the menus start with things that have good visuals," Schick said. "There are lots of ideas that don't work at all for various reasons, but one of the main ones is if there's nothing good visually to latch onto, and campaign stuff has so many appealing visuals."

Customers at Trick Dog during this menu cycle will find their politically charged drink orders on American flag menus or campaign button pins. Cocktails get garnishes like American flag parasols, and red, white, and blue sprinkles.

What customers won't find are nods to the current US presidential campaign.

"We were very careful to not have anything that was actually referencing anything contemporary in this because there is a good reason that there's the adage about not talking about politics at a bar," Schick said. "I don't want anybody who's voting for Gary Johnson to feel like they can't come drink here."

To avoid offending any Republicans, Democrats, or third-party identifiers, the Trick Dog team opted instead to publicly support the presidential aspirations of the hoop-holding clown of its mascot piggy bank.

"It can't possibly be controversial because it's so ridiculous," Schick said.

The fantasy yielded a menu that all drinkers can get behind. Many of the cocktails are produce-driven, utilizing the bounty of California summer.

The Acid & Amnesty calls for tomato water, Romanism & Rebellion for avocado. In the Every Man a King (made with Union mezcal, Ancho Reyes, bell pepper, passion fruit, honey, and lemon), the bell pepper flavor rings true thanks to Schick's use of raw vegetables.

"It's not heated at all so it keeps that super-fresh, crisp, capsicum flavor instead of getting that cooked pepper sweetness," Schick said. "You get a sharpness instead."

Such a flavorful menu (still balanced by spirit-forward drinks like the Didn't Inhale) from such an influential establishment (Trick Dog's one of the world's top 50 bars in addition to being a James Beard award nominee multiple times over) may confirm the end of a rigid bartending era, and the beginning of a new, more light-hearted one.

Now that the battle to be taken seriously was won, bartenders can take drinks less seriously. The Romanism _ Rebellion brings together Don Q Anejo rum, Suze, avocado, almond, cinnamon, lime, and coconut._

Now that the battle to be taken seriously was won, bartenders can take drinks less seriously. The Romanism & Rebellion brings together Don Q Anejo rum, Suze, avocado, almond, cinnamon, lime, and coconut.

"Drinking is starting to be fun again—it was so serious for so long," Schick said. "You had to have rules at your bar and if you're not drinking something that's really high-proof and bitter and aggressive and full of whiskey, you're not doing it right. Now, finally, if you want it to be bright yellow and taste fun and have a stuffed parrot on top of it, that's cool too."

If you can't decide how to vote in November, vote Trick Dog for President. We might not make America great again, but we can at least make drinking fun again.