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A Look Into Bon Vivants’ Trick Dog
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San Francisco, California

A Look Into Bon Vivants’ Trick Dog

The Philosophy Of Community

Bon Vivant:

Origin: late 17th century. From French, literally translating to “person living well,” from bon “good” and vivre “to live.”

Sandwiched between Sightglass Coffee and Central Kitchen on 20th Street in San Francisco’s Mission District is Trick Dog, the first bar opened by Josh Harris and Scott Baird of the hospitality, marketing and design firm The Bon Vivants. This particular area showcases developing parts of the Mission District and the overflow of Mission Street and Valencia Street. And the bar is in the midst of a neighborhood that is rich in history and is ever-evolving; but more than anything, it is a neighborhood.

Although the exterior of the bar is seemingly unassuming, as you enter its doors you’ll find literal San Francisco history built into its structure. In reference to steel found in the bar, Harris said it “used to make up the staircase of the Warfield,” a historical music venue found on Market Street. This visual concept of Trick Dog came to fruition as a result of collaboration between the Bon Vivants and Wiley Price (a reputable restaurant designer).

This level of dedication and tenacity Harris and Baird had when searching for the right pieces to adorn their bar is telling of their work ethic overall. As I sit across from Harris, the afternoon beams through lofty windows on a collection of empty chairs. We are surrounded by steel, brass and touches of marble. A tattoo of a rooster lives on Harris’ arm. This could easily serve as a metaphor for the Bon Vivants themselves: competitive and proud of the work they’ve done and the life they’ve created.

 

Trick Dog’s #5

2 oz. Old Grand Dad Bonded Bourbon
¾ oz. Ancho Reyes
¾ oz. Mango Ginger Syrup
¾ oz. Lemon Juice
2 Dashes Angostura bitters

Directions: Shake and strain into an Old Fashioned glass over fresh ice. Garnish with a lemon wheel (or fruit cocktail on a skewer).

“This tattoo on my arm, this little rooster right here, came from this prohibition cartoon where there were two roosters about to fight, and there was a fox sitting on a barrel with some quirky slogan on a sign. That became our logo,” Harris explains, although the tattoo preceded the creation of the logo. This coincides with the assertion that the origin of the word “cocktail” comes from the tail end of a rooster, which was also once used as a playful instrument to mix drinks.

Harris and Baird originally met at the end of 2007 while Harris worked as a brand ambassador at Tequila Ocho. After holding an event at 15 Romolo (a bar in North Beach where Baird was partner at the time), a collaborative partnership quickly developed. It was a matter of time before Harris and Baird both realized their shared interest in collecting books and antiques, but most importantly they identified with their passion for the kind of cocktails they enjoyed making.

In 2009, the Bon Vivants had the opportunity to consult at a bar. “For a multitude of reasons, I asked [Scott] if he wanted to do it together,” said Harris. “And the conversation was as funny and honest as, ‘We could do it together and we could name ourselves and say we’re a company, and then we can just be that.’” And by the end of 2009, they were hired to do two more consulting jobs, including the Michelin-starred Quince.

In a short period of time, they developed some bar programs they were proud of, and it evolved from there. “It made it a reality for us. We could explore other facets of the drinks business and exercise our entrepreneurial and creative thoughts on how we could do that and who we could be involved with, as well as starting working with brands,” said Harris. And to this date, brand clients of theirs have included Tequila Ocho, Ancho Reyes, Campo De Enanto and Absolut, to name a few.

It was only natural Harris would turn to his vintage cocktail book collection to find a name that best represented who they are and what they wanted to accomplish as a company. “I’m a collector, so that means Scott is a collector. There are antiques, books and all sorts of things around en masse,” said Harris. “I remember pulling out all my old cocktail books and looking through them for words and names that grabbed us. We also looked at the branding of our company in the drinks business and otherwise.”

That’s when he came across an old cocktail book by Jerry Thomas: How to Mix Drinks or The Bon Vivant’s Companion. “That book is one of the bibles for nerds who collect old cocktail books,” said Harris. They immediately identified with the definition and etymology of the term bon vivant. “We didn’t want to be blatantly associated with beverages,” said Harris. “We wanted something that made an allusion to food and drink, and also didn’t necessarily limit us in terms of being pigeonholed.”

After forming their company and helping other bars establish their cocktail programs, the Bon Vivants became inspired to host a charitable party of sorts, which is when they turned to the idea of New Orleans.

They thought, “We should go to New Orleans, get some friends together and build a house.” So they gathered 11 friends together and found a group called HandsOn New Orleans. “They link up people who want to volunteer with people who need help,” explained Harris. This organization partnered them with a KIPP Public Charter School; they were able to work on a New Orleans public school that was being transformed into this new KIPP location. And in the meantime, the Bon Vivants decided to throw a party to raise money for charity as well.

“We didn’t know it was going to become what it has become now,” explained Harris. Inspired by their first visit as a company to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, they asked themselves what they would want to do on stage in front of the people who travel in from all over the world, people in their trade, as well as their friends. And they wanted to do something that involved eating as well as drinking. “We wanted it to be more about building camaraderie between people than it was about trying drinks,” said Harris.

“Scott has always had one foot in the kitchen and one foot in the bar,” he continued. And they thought, “What’s the thing that’s ultimately about community eating and drinking? Obviously, a whole animal and punch.” So Baird cooked whole pigs, they provided lawn games, and they made massive bowls of punches where people were able to serve themselves. Cocktails made with craft spirits—as well as crates of garnishes—were put in brand-new, lined, 40-gallon trashcans with 100-lb crystal clear ice cubes in each one.

And thus, Pig & Punch was born. They raised $1,600 for the KIPP public school in 2009. And last year—the five-year anniversary of the first event—had over 200 volunteers show up at the school and they were able to donate $44,000. The Pig & Punch events are now also hosted in Portland and Brooklyn—both in their fourth years. According to Harris, so far, there have been “over 5,000 man-hours in labor and over $170,000 raised.”

“This year, we’ve put some new parts in the program where bars around the country are going to be featuring a cocktail for a month and they’ll donate money back it,” said Harris. “The philosophy this year is how would we continue this brand of a party we’ve created to drive revenue for charity, but without having to throw $30K parties to do it?” And they’ll also be creating a scholarship fund with this stream of additional funds, which are non-university specific so exceptional students can pursue whatever they are exceptional at.

In 2010, the Bon Vivants planned on opening Trick Dog. However, it didn’t officially open its doors until 2013. And they have created a community of their own in a town where Harris was born and raised.

“We felt it was very important to try and create something that was not just about me and Scott,” said Harris. They provide a space—and a platform for others to excel—where their bartenders have gained their own notoriety due to their outstanding skills. Ultimately, the mission of Trick Dog is centered on building a community passionate about the simplistic act of enjoying a delicious drink. And while you’re there you can enjoy a cocktail from their rotating menu, whose original concept was born when Harris, Baird and the Bon Vivants Creative Director Morgan Schick discussed the idea of paint color one evening. This “non-menu”—as the team refers to it—changes twice a year on January 8 and July 8, and has included the Pantone Menu, the Record Album Menu, the Zodiac Menu, the Tourist Menu and the current Chinese Menu (which is inspired by how you order meals from a Chinese restaurant).

However, Harris explained, “It is about what the drink facilitates rather than the drink itself.” And with that, it is a vehicle for interaction between like-minded people, in hopes of creating something bigger. “Great drinks are things you can find in many places. What else are you adding into an experience to make somebody attracted to that?”

The duo’s success originates from the social and positive energy around their product. Their philosophy lies deeper than simply creating a tasty drink. “It was way more around what going to a bar or having a drink facilitates, rather than actually having the drink,” said Harris.

In a culture filled with countless bars and restaurants opening weekly, attention to detail is what distinguishes the good from the great. “If Scott were here he would interject and say our overarching philosophy would be to create what is delicious, not precious. As we continue to move into the future, there has been a consistent globalization of the aesthetic, style and quality of information that is exchanged between food and beverage people within the industry,” said Harris.

But with community as their passion, the Bon Vivants have created a wave of growth. They have created community at their own bar—a place they built as a space they would want to hang out in themselves—as well as other bars. Not to mention at Pig & Punch events that take place around the country where they have raised money they will help other communities. And this tireless dedication to lifting others up has not gone unnoticed.

At Tales of the Cocktail last year, Trick Dog won “Best American Bar Team” where they accepted the award on behalf of their staff back in San Francisco running the bar like a normal night. And they were also semifinalists for a 2014 James Beard Foundation Award, and a nominee for a 2015 James Beard Foundation Award. And although these are great honors, they are more like affirmations of the team’s desire to build something from the ground up and to share what they’ve learned—and earned—with others.

Trick Dog
3010 20th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

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