Bartenders can find inspiration from anything. And Trevor Easter at Heaven’s Dog has continued the long tradition at the restaurant, relying on the classic book “The Gentlemen’s Companion: Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Glass” by Charles H. Baker for creating his diverse cocktail menu.
Easter started his career behind the bar in San Diego and made his way north, stopping at several different spots in the Bay Area. He quickly worked his way up the ranks, taking over the reins at Rickhouse when the bar was peaking in popularity. That eventually led to his current position as bar manager at Heaven’s Dog, taking over for Erik Adkins.
“I think when people hire bar managers, they want them to be a leader and know everything there is to be know about a bar. The great thing at Heaven’s Dog is that I get to design the cocktail menu and I get to choose the spirits,” said Easter. “I get to choose things that I love. But I also get to bartend 5-6 days a week. I get to see the regular customers and interact with them and I think it gives me a better feel about what I need at the bar.”
Easter credits Adkins, who is managing the cocktail program at The Slanted Door, with the success of the cocktail program at Heaven’s Dog, but said he also knew he needed to make some changes.
“The program had gotten a bit stale so I wanted to modernize the list when I came in last year. But I didn’t want to make it so drastic that the bar would lose the personality that it had developed over the years. Before I started working here, this was one of my favorite spots to come in and have a great drink, so I didn’t want to lose that feel,” he said. “I started from scratch. Instead of having the list match exactly what was in “Around the World with Jigger,” I tried to make drinks that were a bit more modern, yet still had that classic, fun feel. I also wanted people to not really know that I had taken over for Erik. I wanted the same feel as before, but with just a subtle change here and there.”
Easter said he also has a huge advantage in working with Adkins and Heaven’s Dog owner Charles Phan. “Those two guys are like mad scientists. I’ve had Erik call me up in the middle of the night or really early in the morning and he’ll say, remember what you were saying about that one ingredient? Why don’t we look into that,” he said. “Their willingness to try different things just breeds creativity. Plus we have the best ingredients. We have fresh-squeezed ginger everyday. Those two really push all of us to do some really cool things.”
One of the cooler aspects of the bar at Heaven’s Dog is the Freedom from Choice option. Basically, customers can choose the spirit and if they want their drink more on the citrusy-side or stronger. “I wanted to make Dealer’s Choice a bit more unique because that can get pretty stale as well. So I asked people and talked to some of the guys who mentored me and just started to create a database of drinks,” Easter said. “I have about 2,000 total. So now, if customers choose whiskey, I can make them a drink one night. Then when they come back, they might ask for that drink again or I can pick and choose a different option. Eventually, they could try 5-6 different drinks and find a few they really like.”
Easter is always trying to come up with different concoctions as well, making 5-6 versions of each and tweaking the recipe a bit each time before he even thinks of putting a drink on the menu. “The menu here is always going to be on the lighter side, more citrusy. I think that just matches the food a bit better. I don’t like to change up the menu a whole lot because I think a lot of the drinks are standbys, items like the Shanghai Buck. That is probably never coming off the menu,” he said. “So I’ll add one or two drinks every few months.”
One of his latest creations, which he thinks will be a keeper, is “None But the Brave.”
“I had been messing around trying to perfect the drink but it just wasn’t coming out right. It was missing something. Than one day, I got a copy of the original recipe and it turns out I was missing one key ingredient: Jamaican Ginger,” he said. “It was only available pre-prohibition and people changed the recipe. So I re-created the drink pre-Prohibition style and came up with None But the Brave, the only version with the original ingredients from the original recipe.”
Easter admits he is a bit of a “cocktail nerd” but it’s all part of the creative process. He loves the camaraderie among bartenders in the Bay Area and the friendly competition pushes him to create unique cocktails at every opportunity.
Heaven’s Dog is located at 1148 Mission Street. The restaurant and bar are open Monday-Thursday from 5:00-11:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 5:00-12:00 a.m. and on Sunday from 4:30-9:00 p.m.
Photo Credit: Stuart Green, Heaven’s Dog
Tags: Charles H. Baker, Charles Phan, Erik Adkins, Heaven's Dog, The Gentlemen's Companion, Trevor Easter