Starting this Friday, drinkers at Trick Dog, one of San Francisco’s only bars on the World’s 50 Best Bars list, might see a library card fall from their menu as they browse for ‘a beverage. The menu will tell about some of Trick Dog’s many awards, but it could also highlight a specialty cocktail named after a poem by Langston Hughes. That’s because Katharine “Katie” Ogle, a legendary poet, worked with illustrator and designer Alyssa Rusin to create the bar’s 17th literary menu, dubbed “In Good Spirits.” As longtime fans probably know, Trick Dog has a reputation for designing larger-than-life menus, and this one is no less spectacular.
Every six months, the bar creates a new cocktail menu and, alongside the revamp, chooses a theme and design for the menu. Past themes have included the Pantone color wheel, the zodiac map, a tourist menu, a dog calendar (whatever that means), a cookbook, and a mural project. Whatever the theme, part of the sales of drinks and associated products is donated to Bon Vivants scholarship, which goes through the Mission District ScholarMatch. But this book is not a gimmick; it contains the works of 16 poets, 13 of whom are contemporary authors whom Ogle considers among the best in the United States, and three iconic authors including Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson. There are also Bay Area poets on the list, including Michelle Peñaloza, James Lewis Tucker and Catherine Pond. The menu and chapbook are captioned “one part anthology, two part cocktail menu”.
Josh Harris, owner of Trick Dog, says he’s been considering this menu for a long time. It’s the first truly literary menu, although the mural project was equally ambitious in scope and was the bar’s first big leap into this crazy menu world. “We realized we could sell the menu and raise money for causes,” says Harris. “That structure stuck in my mind.” He has known Ogle and her husband for a long time and approached her about three months ago to lead the project. Customers can get cozy with “verses” or highballs like the $14 Shakespeare, made with orange wine and cream soda, or indulge in “slam poetry” or shots for $8. Harris particularly likes The Years by Alex Dimitrov, which is paired with one of three non-alcoholic options. On the the new yorker site, Dimitrov can be heard reading this poem, which spoke to Harris. “There’s a beautiful juxtaposition between the subject of this poem and this drink,” Harris says.
It is a bound book, rather than the old three bound menus such as What rhymes with dog thing? which was a children’s book. Loud cries go to Colpa Press on 23rd and Capp Streets, Harri says, for all their hard work to make this happen. The whole project is also interactive; there are coasters with a haiku template to write yourself, for example. “It’s experiential,” Rusin says, his design powers on full display. Harris sees this menu, which will run for six months, as a sort of bat signal for city poets who want to get involved with Trick Dog, support the Bon Vivants Fellowship and come together. “When I held this thing, and realized that it was more than I could have hoped for, and people will want to hold it to their chest and run their hands over the blanket, I was even more excited about this project,” Harris said.
Ogle is excited to work on this project with the team. When Harris approached her, “he said ‘What do you think that could be?’ and we developed it from there,” says Ogle. She hopes to do an event at the Association of Writers and Publishers (AWP) conference this year in Seattle that could bring together anthology writers for a reading. , possibly 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. Ogle and Rusin agree that Harris’s genius lies in its power to connect talent. They’re thrilled to see people interact with the book in real time. Whether it’s reading a poem and then ordering a drink, or ordering a drink then read a poem, they are interested in seeing how people interact with the menu. “I kind of can’t wait to see what it looks like,” Ogle says. “There are several entry points. It can be a cocktail menu, but it can also be an introduction to poetry.
Trick Dog, 3010 20th Street in San Francisco, will launch its new menu tonight, Friday, July 8, and is open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.