Bar Talk

Making the Grade in Advanced Mixology

Alfie Spears of San Francisco’s Trick Dog shares his unconventional cocktail development process and a recipe for his latest gin-based concoction

Photo courtesy of Trick Dog.

Alfie Spears is the bar manager at Trick Dog, a Mission cocktail bar known for hyper-creative menus that change every six months. Previous menus have illuminated tattoos and reimagined The Joy of Cooking. The latest plays off a catalog of college courses.

SevenFifty Daily: Your current menu takes a trip back to college: Trick Dog University. What’s the backstory?

Alfie Spears: We have our brain trust and we throw ideas at the wall. With every concept we think of drink names, their functionality, how they will look in a guest’s hands, and how we can incorporate a philanthropic element. Because of the new Bon Vivants Scholarship in partnership with Dave Eggers’s Scholar Match, which offers funding to local students whose families work in the industry, it just made sense to go the academic route. We’ve reached a point where we know what makes a Trick Dog menu. The drinks should be delicious and not precious. There should also be something about them that is distinctive, that you can’t get anywhere else. 

Anything on the Trick Dog University menu that you’re particularly smitten with?

The Agriculture & Life Science (Plymouth Gin, tarragon vermouth, creamy lemon liqueur, Meyer herb bitters, black olive) is special. Our director of operations served a biscotti at her wedding that we all went crazy for—I think I left with some in my jacket pockets—and when Trick Dog decided to put a sweeter Martinez-style drink on the menu we thought about that biscotti. These cocktails have to come from such a subjective place.

Photo courtesy of Trick Dog.

You’ve been at Trick Dog five years. What are some of the changes you’ve seen?

The neighborhood used to just have Trick Dog. Today you can go to True Laurel and Tartine Manufactory and make a night of it. Everyone was also losing their mind over mezcal at the time. Now it’s funny how I often see Espresso Martinis being ordered. I knew how to make one back then but it was rarely called for. Lifer bartenders tell me it was once the same with the Old Fashioned.


More on Spears:

  • He began his hospitality career as a dishwasher at age 14 or 15 in his native Scotland.
  • Reflecting on his first Trick Dog gig, he says, “I cut ice with a chainsaw outside. Eventually they let me inside.”
  • On Trick Dog’s success since opening in 2013, he says, “We’re lucky to have such a strong team of bartenders so that if you just want to come for a Negroni you can have a great experience because of how personable they are.”
  • On off hours, he hangs out at The Double Standard in Oakland, or dive bars in the Mission, typically with well tequila and a tall soda water on the side.

Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. Her work has appeared in Vogue.com, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. With the Tippling Bros. she wrote the book A Lime and a Shaker: Discovering Mexican-Inspired Cocktails. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.

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