Starting this Friday drinkers at Trick Dog, one of the only San Francisco bars on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, might see a library card fall out of their menu as they leaf through looking for a beverage. The card will recount a few of Trick Dog’s many awards, but it might also highlight a specialty cocktail named after a Langston Hughes poem. That’s because Katharine “Katie” Ogle, a storied poet, worked with illustrator and designer Alyssa Rusin to put together the bar’s literary 17th menu, dubbed “In Good Spirits.” As longtime fans likely know, Trick Dog has a reputation for larger-than-life menu designs, and this latest is no less spectacular.
Every six months the bar creates a new cocktail menu and, along with the redrafting, chooses a theme and design for the menu. Past themes included the Pantone color wheel, the Zodiac chart, a tourist menu, dog calendar (whatever that means), cookbook, and mural project. No matter the theme, portions of sales from the drinks and associated merch are donated to the Bon Vivants Scholarship, which goes through the Mission District’s ScholarMatch. But this book is no gimmick; it contains work from 16 poets, 13 of which are contemporary authors who Ogle considers among the best in the United States, and three iconic authors including Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson. There are Bay Area poets on the list, too, including Michelle Peñaloza, James Lewis Tucker, and Catherine Pond. The menu and chapbook is subtitled “one part anthology, two parts cocktail menu.”
Josh Harris, Trick Dog owner, says he’s been contemplating this menu for a long time. It’s the first truly literary menu, though the mural project was of a similarly ambitious scope and was the bar’s first big jump into this crazy menu world. “We realized we could sell the menu and raise money for causes,” Harris says. “That structure stuck in my mind.” He’s known Ogle and her husband for a long time, and approached her about three months ago to spearhead the project. Customers can cozy up to some “couplets” or highballs like the $14 Shakespeare, made with orange wine and cream soda, or get hyped on “slam poetry” or shots for $8. Harris is particularly into The Years by Alex Dimitrov, which is paired with one of the three nonalcoholic options. On the The New Yorker site, one can hear Dimitrov reading this poem, which spoke to Harris. “There’s a nice juxtaposition between the subject of that poem and that drink,” Harris says.
It’s a softbound book, rather than the three hardbound past menus such as What Rhymes With Trick Dog? which was a children’s book. Big shout outs go to Colpa Press on 23rd and Capp Streets, Harri says, for all their work in making this happen. The entire project is interactive, too; there are coasters with a write-your-own haiku template, for example. “It’s experiential,” Rusin says, her design powers on full display. Harris sees this menu, which will run for six months, as a bat signal of sorts for poets in the city who want to get involved with Trick Dog, support the Bon Vivants Scholarship, and come together. “When I held that thing, and I realized it was more than I could have hoped for, and that people will want to hold it to their chest and run their hands over the cover, I was even more excited about this project,” Harris says.
Ogle is thrilled to work on this project with the team. When Harris approached her, “he said ‘What do you think it could be?’ and we developed it from there,” Ogle says. She hopes to do an event at the Association for Writers and Publishers (AWP) conference this year in Seattle that could bring together writers from the anthology for a reading, maybe at a local bar in the area. Rusin moved to the Bay Area nine years ago and has been a fan of Trick Dog ever since. She pitched Harris on the design accompaniment to Ogle’s poetry. Both Ogle and Rusin agree that Harris’ genius lies in his power to connect talent. They’re excited to see people interacting with the book in real time. Whether it be to read a poem then order a drink, or order a drink then read a poem, they’re interested to see how people engage with the menu. “I kind of can’t wait to see what that looks like,” Ogle says. “There are multiple points of entry. It can be a cocktail menu, but it can be an introduction to poetry, too.”
Trick Dog, 3010 20th Street in San Francisco, will launch its new menu tonight, Friday, July 8, and is open from 4 p.m.-2 a.m.