Photography: Sonya Yu
The only drawback that comes from creating cool, clever, award-winning menus is that all eyes are on you to keep on delivering the goods. Luckily, The Bon Vivants, owners of Trick Dog never disappoint. That said, their ninth menu which launches today is their most ambitious yet, going beyond the bar and out on to the streets of San Francisco.
No doubt locals will have noticed some striking street art appearing around the city of late – adding colour and character to walls everywhere from the hipster Mission District through to The Castro. The artists and styles may be different but all 13 works come together in the Trick Dog Mural Project – comprising said street art, a coffee table book and cocktail menu boasting 13 drinks named after the participating muralists. There’s a 14th mural too, this one greets you as you enter the bar and is a one-of-a-kind collaboration between 10 of the artists (one was ill at the time of painting while another two were out of town).
It’s not the first time art has been incorporated into cocktail menus of course. Chris Moore worked with a paper engineer to produce the spectacular pop-up book for the Beaufort Bar at The Savoy in London in 2014, while Remy Savage enlisted 11 artists to interpret the characteristics of the drinks on the list in the stellar The Evocative Menu at Little Red Door in Paris early last year. However, The Trick Dog Mural Project is different. The art is is accessible to all for one thing, plus the proceeds from the sale of the book will be divided between two local charities.
We spoke to Josh Harris from The Bon Vivants a nerve-wracking three days before launch to find out more.
The Trick Dog Mural Art Project, featuring the work of Ronnie Buders
This is one helluva project Josh, when did you come up with the idea?
It was hatched in the middle to end of June 2016, just shy of the launch of the last menu. Back then we had the idea for the book, art and the collaboration, it turned into the San Francisco mural a little further down the road.
Having the idea is one thing, how did you even begin to implement it?
We knew that one of the keys to its success was Ronnie Buders, a very close friend and regular at the bar. He happens to be a muralist and is a very close friend of Sam Flores, another extremely well-known muralist. We knew that if the two of them bought into the idea we could make the whole thing happen as they would know which artists to choose and how to approach them – they also have experience procuring properties and know how to speak to the owners. Luckily, when we pitched the idea to Ronnie and Sam, they absolutely loved it so we were off to the races.
Can you describe the pitch?
Ronnie is very familiar with our menu platform and recognises that we have ambition with our creativity, so we didn’t have to sell that part – that foundation was already laid. We went to him and said that we were getting an idea together for the next menu and told him what we had in mind, which was essentially a small coffee table collectable art book featuring a collection of murals painted across San Francisco. We said we wanted each cocktail in the book to coincide with one of the murals, so each cocktail would be named after the artist who created the works of art. We also told him that we wanted to sell the book, with proceeds going to Precita Eyes and Creativity Explored, two non-profit organisations that he was familiar with.
We’re always looking at ways that we can three-dimensionalise our menus. We’re lucky that we’ve had success with them, so that attention gives us an opportunity to do more. For instance, for the dog calendar menu, we donated the proceeds to a dog charity and in this case it’s facilitating more public displays of artwork as an opportunity to raise money for charity and bring people together. Ronnie was like “I’m totally down with that, what’s your timeline?” I gave him a totally unfeasible schedule and he pulled it off.
The finished product, showcasing the collaborative mural outside Trick Dog
Not easy by any stretch of the imagination but how did everything come together?
The main issue with this project was there were specific hard deadlines that had to be met in order for the book to be published in time for the launch. The murals had to be done, then photographed and laid out; the book had to be sent to the publisher, then printed and bound. Obviously the holidays made that even more challenging…
As we speak [10am PST on Thursday 5th January] the final mural is being done. Our photographer is waiting to take the final shot which will be sent immediately to the printer for the dust jacket for the book which will be back with us in two days time [Saturday 7th, see above].
What’s been the hardest part of the whole process?
Having trust and faith in other people to execute their vision. All of the menus we’ve done in the past have lived exclusively in our office, then they go to our printer and they’re done. This took a tremendous amount of coordination: there was us collaborating with Ronnie and Sam, then Ronnie and Sam collaborating with 14 other people, plus property owners and our photographer etc. We had to set a lot in motion and then sit back and cross our fingers that it would happen, which is hard for people like us but, knock on wood, everything has gone smoothly.
How did you arrive at the number of artists to use in the project?
We always shoot for a cocktail menu of 12 or 13 cocktails – we think it’s a good sweet spot. For this one, we set out to do 12, but one of the murals is by a husband and wife duo so there were 13 murals and 14 artists. Ronnie and Sam had pitched the idea to a few more than 12 thinking that some would say no but one artist who we were extremely excited about and familiar with came back late and said that he wanted to do it and so we were like “fuck it, let’s add a 13th cocktail!”
There’s also the matter of the 14th mural outside your building. How did such strong characters and styles work together?
I spent about nine hours outside the bar on New Year’s Day watching this whole thing transpire. It was a little like the early bird catches the worm – the ones who got there first were looking at the space that was available and you could see they were thinking ‘this is where I envision the thing I want doing going’. Those started to take shape, then the other guys showed up and they had to work around what had already been done. That’s when Ronnie stepped in and gave some direction, advising the artists on how their various styles could connect so they would have the right weight and flow. I mean, it’s a hodge-podge of different styles, albeit in a very cool way but it is clearly the work of 10 artists.
The Trick Dog Mural Art Project, featuring the work of Sam Flores
What came first, the drinks or the art?
In this case, the art was set in motion before the drinks but it’s not like each mural is about the cocktail or anything like that. It was extremely important for us to create an opportunity for these artists to do what they do – facilitating that rather than creating cocktail murals.
Has working with artists forced you to be more creative with the drinks?
Definitely, because we want them to like the drinks! We’re like, “here’s the Sam Flores, Sam, we hope you like it!” It’s a pretty weird experience.
Now that the project is done, how does it make you feel?
The feeling of community that I’ve felt around this group of artists has been incredible. I feel really fortunate that I got to spend the entire day out there on Sunday, it was so cool watching these extremely well known artists – some of them meeting each other for the first time, particularly the younger ones meeting people they’ve always looked up to – it was very inspiring stuff. As a group I feel it’s become bigger than the sum of its parts.
Where can the murals be found?
We’ve gone for a pretty good mix of neighbourhoods, including two in the Castro. I’ll speak on behalf of Ronnie here: in the breakdown around the city, there’s not a lot of mural art in the Castro, it’s a really special neighbourhood, so he was really excited when he was able to secure two locations there. He believes that this project will continue to create more opportunities for neighbourhood beautification and public mural art.
In the book we’ve listed where the works can be found so people can go out and explore the city, take photographs and generally just check them out. I love all types of art but why I think mural art is so special is because it’s for everybody, regardless of race, sex or socio-economic demographic – if you walk by it, it’s yours to experience.
Will they be permanent?
Every business owner was told that at the end of the six months if they wanted the mural to come down we would repaint their building. We don’t know what will happen but we’re hoping they’ll keep them, that would be very cool.
The Trick Dog Mural Project is available from 8th January to 4th July. The books will be on sale for $40 with all proceeds going to charity. For more details see trickdogbar.com