Bad Animal
Dining Reviews

Santa Cruz’s New Bad Animal Blends Books, Wine, Food

Bookstore meets wine bar at new downtown haunt

Jess LoPrete and Andrew Sivak opened Bad Animal this month. PHOTO: JULES HOLDSWORTH

“We want to sell you what you never knew you wanted and will be unable to live without,” bookstore empresario Andrew Sivak told me. Now that’s a manifesto I can live with.

The result of this ambition was on display last week at a debut dinner hosted by Bad Animal entrepreneurs Andrew Sivak and Jess LoPrete, who have given those mourning the loss of Logos a reason to rejoice. Books—with real, turnable pages—are the heart and soul of the newly opened combination bookstore and wine bar at the top of Cedar Street. Lavish with space to wander and browse, Bad Animal is a seductive environment. Enormous central tables laden with independently published exotica are surrounded by several rooms of floor-to-ceiling vintage treasures. Ginsberg, Eco, Neruda, Burroughs, Dickenson—Anais Nin would love this place. The focus is on the humanities (Sivak’s PhD is in history of consciousness), and specifically the non-digitized humanities, wildly independent and fierce explorations into literature and philosophy.

More than a bookstore, however, the bold concept includes an attractive wine bar, as well as an inviting café oasis for on-site indulgence. Smart plates full of seasonal ingredients designed by a former Manresa sous chef and terroir-driven wines from small producers (think Birichino) form the basis of the café side of Bad Animal. Sexy bar snacks will offer a way of settling in with that book purchase, as well as a pit-stop for downtown flaneurs and a choice location for upcoming rendezvous. A wine bar inside an enlightened used book store! Sounds like Paris or New York. Or Santa Cruz, in its reinvented Golden Age.

Seated on handsome banquettes amongst assorted winemakers, authors, the odd professor, and several poets, I sampled BA’s café potential. The meal began with Grenache (or Muscadet for white winers) and pretty plates of fresh asparagus with a feisty caper-studded sauce of mustardy mayonnaise (gribiche) and salads of red and pink beets flecked with goat cheese, bits of walnut, adolescent arugula, and wheat berries. Kierkegaard would have loved this salad. Then came brown butter rye gnocchi with peas, minced trumpet mushrooms and pea sprout adornment. Dessert of clafoutis with cherries and almonds brought a satisfying close to the meal’s procession of flavors. Good-looking dishes.

Bad Animal’s eclectic wall art and glittering chandeliers cut an appealing contrast with the industrial candor of the exposed ceiling and bookshelves. What a great spot for a book signing, poetry reading, wine tasting or simply a Dionysian revel over a rousing chapter of Nietzsche. “I think Bad Animal will be an exciting and beautiful novelty,” a flushed-with-pride Sivak told me. Oh and so much more—this place will also become a ritual addiction for those maxed out on screens and electronica, who grew up searching for truth and beauty in the sanctuary of a well-stocked used book store.  

Bad Animal, 2011 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Bookshop open 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; bar and kitchen noon-10 p.m.; dinner 5-9:30 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday.

Botanical Wellness

On Saturday, May 25, from noon-5 p.m., join the Botanical Healing Arts folks at their May Flower Festival up at the UCSC Arboretum (on Empire Grade Road, halfway between High and Bay streets and the west entrance to the campus). Take a docent-led tour of the splendid grounds, filled with fragrance and eye candy. Speakers Robert and Sheva Browning from HeartMath Institute will share their expertise on the healing power of the heart. Along with live music by the Wave Tones and the Elizabeth Van Buren Essential Oil blending bar, enjoy a specially crafted catered lunch by The Brown Bag, which will include edible flowers as well as GF mushroom-almond paté, avocado-radish canapes, spring salads involving dried cherries, Greek pasta, beets, and a rainbow of seasonal veggies. $100/person.


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