May 14, 2019 – I would imagine that choosing a name for a hybrid independent used bookstore, natural wine bar and California-French restaurant would be challenging. With so many literary and culinary references, the options are potentially endless. But for lifelong friends Jess LoPrete and Andrew Sivak, who have joined forces to open such a place on Cedar Street in Santa Cruz, the title of their dream project is a perfect fit.
“The name Bad Animal is an homage to Dionysus, the Greek god of wine, ecstasy, and partying,” explains LoPrete. In Euripides’ The Bacchae, King Pentheus tries to suppress the worshipers of Dionysus. He calls them animals and issues a ban on their sacred Dionysian rites, which typically involve loud music, heavy drinking, and getting it on. Sure enough, at the end of the play, he’s torn apart and devoured in animalistic fashion by a drunken mob of angry women that includes his wife and daughters.
“In defiance of those repressed tyrants like Pentheus, who can’t stand people cutting loose and having a good time, we’re trying to reclaim ‘bad animal’ as a term of endearment,” she says.
The place will offer a somewhat more refined experience for the animals in all of us, with an emphasis on seasonal, local ingredients, small production natural wine and a curated selection of used books. The ultimate goal is to offer “a place of refuge for everyone in our community suffering from digital fatigue and a welcoming place for all those in search of a great book, a fine glass of wine, and an amazing meal,” says LoPrete. The two business partners are combining appropriate backgrounds to create such an experience, with LoPrete working for years as a chef in San Francisco while Sivak earned his PhD in the History of Consciousness at UC Santa Cruz.
The build out of the full-scale restaurant space was no easy feat, a combined effort of architects, subcontractors and local tradespeople, but LoPrete says that ultimately, “we found that everyone was creatively invigorated by the novelty and timeliness of the concept. We had the good fortune of working with so many people for whom the combination of a bookstore, wine bar, and restaurant wasn’t bizarre. For them, as for us, it was obvious: all the best things under one roof.”
The food under that roof will be a wine-centric menu sure to impress, put together with help from Todd Parker, a former sous chef at Manresa in Los Gatos. Expect shareable dishes of French classics like asparagus with gribiche and tarte flambée and California standouts like halibut crudo with pickled kumquats and avocado. Bar snacks will also be served, such as popcorn with brown butter and vadouvan Indian spices or almonds with nutritional yeast and apple cider vinegar.
When asked about the intentionality of serving only natural wine, LoPrete says, “Our love of natural wine runs deep. It begins with a profound respect for small production winemakers who practice hands on, natural farming practices. Especially in a community like Santa Cruz, we think that wine should be held to the same ethical and sustainable standards that are commonly applied to meat and produce. But ethics aside, we adore natural wine because we think it’s tastier than conventional wine made with excessive chemical edits; it’s wilder and more flavorful while also being more expressive of the region and conditions in which it was produced.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
They will also be pouring a selection of beers and ciders, with a few non-alcoholic options as well, and they plan on regularly hosting poetry readings, panel discussions, lectures, wine tastings, book launch parties, and other special events to engage the surrounding community. And we are a community that is sure to support this niche project, an exciting opening in the downtown region that LoPrete says will be “priced for the bohemian budget with preference given to all that’s local, rare, finely crafted, and Dionysian.”
Amber Turpin is a food writer and baker who homesteads in Ben Lomond.