A destination for art, wine and culture
If you were to only look at Guerneville through the lens of seasonal news coverage, you would be forgiven if you mistook the wine country river town as a dress rehearsal for the End Times. Fires, floods, drought, and occasional plagues of tourists notwithstanding, sensational headlines may turn a page or two but it doesn’t serve the real story of what’s happening there, which is something of a cultural renaissance.
The key indicators of this—at least in my highly subjective and idiosyncratic analysis (having written versions of the article a couple of times over the years I consider myself semi-pro at this point)—is an uptick in the preponderance of art and wine. I’m a classicist in this regard—if Ancient Greece is the cradle of civilization, Sonoma County is at least a comfortable chaise lounge and a great place to lounge in said chaise is Guerneville.
This town is like your favorite, crinkly-eyed aunt—the one with the good weed, who takes in maybe too many strays and laughs easily because she’s quietly sitting on a few million in real estate. Some might think of Guerneville as the kind of place you visit “but you wouldn’t want to live there,” which suits the people who live there because they probably wouldn’t want you as a neighbor. That said, they’re great hosts—Guerneville is not a tourist town and yet it is incredibly hospitable. It manages a bit of wine country consciousness without a hint of snobbery (Sonoma, take notes). Sure, in some spots, it puts the “rust” in rustic but it ain’t creaky. In fact, it’s rather cutting-age.
Consider the Oli Gallery, which opened on Main Street on April 1. Brimming with bright and brilliant works predominantly by local artists, the gallery is the brainchild of single-monikered Donovan, whose own work leaps from the wall in dynamic, faceless figures culled from a visual vocabulary he’s developed since his youth. The figures explode from a lysergic palette and vamp, contort, cower and seduce through pure gesture that is simultaneously heroic, vulnerable and sexual. It’s the kind of signature work one might expect to see in a more metropolitan setting and yet, here it is: “That’s why it works here—it’s unexpected, that’s what I like about it,” says Donovan. Agreed—the work in Oli Gallery is so different that it doesn’t seem out of place.
Oli Gallery, 16215 Main Street, #1, Guerneville. oligallery.com
If Oli Gallery is Guerneville’s aesthetic future, its past is alive and well at Out of the Past, which bills itself as a “treasure chest of quality items from the good old days.” What’s interesting is that the shop’s address is also that of Seconds First, which sells “fun clothing and oddities.” Together, these two shop-sharing retailers stock a beguiling array of offerings—everything from paper dolls to vintage magazines like MAD as well as obscure novelizations of movies and, of course, guitar strings. Gumby and Pokey are well-represented as are leather motorcycle jackets, a variety of pithy tees and the requisite glow-in-the-dark rubber cat figurines. It’s as if Pee-wee Herman’s interior decorator retired to Guerneville and started a general store.
Out of the Past/Seconds First, 16365 Main Street, Guerneville. facebook.com/seconds-first
Is it a bank? Is it an ice cream shop? Is it a pie shop? Let’s just bank on it being all the above—but keep that debit card ready because you’re going to want to sample the wares of the Guerneville Bank Club. Chile Pies Baking Company does the baking and Nimble & Finn’s provides the handmade ice cream. For that matter, the Russian River Historical Society, which is also housed within this handsomely restored century-old (literally built in 1921) architectural specimen, is onhand to provide the building’s backstory. But first—pie! The selections are both eclectic and overwhelming in their awesomeness. I panicked and went for the comparatively conservative mixed berry pie, which was, in a word, exquisite. Due to Covid, sitting is limited though there is a bench outside and if you’re keen to take a selfie the old fashioned way, there’s a photo booth inside the old bank’s vault.
Guerneville Bank Club, 16290 Main Street, Guerneville. guernevillebankclub.com
Speaking of mugshots, on the day of my recent visit a shirtless man was being escorted away by the police, which is somehow affirming that Guerneville hasn’t lost its outlaw edge to gentrification just yet. What the town has lost, however, is its cafe-adjacent bookstore, Twice Told Books—at least in its brick and mortar incarnation. This is a heartbreaker. The store was the perfect complement to Coffee Bazaar, which continues to thrive and whose Facebook page reminds us that, when it opened in 1983, it shared space with a video store, art shop, bead store, a tie-dye shop and a bookstore. With the departure of this final bookstore iteration, we can only assume that somewhere Jeff Bezos is smiling, having supplanted all the above into a website that shall not be named. Get a coffee instead—you deserve it and so do they.
Coffee Bazaar, 14045 Armstrong Woods Rd, Guerneville. facebook.com/CoffeeBazaar
I needed a drink. The Rainbow Cattle Company (a must-visit, info at queersteer.com) doesn’t open until 2 p.m., so I crossed the street to Equality Vines. In this cultural moment—and especially during Pride Month—I couldn’t think of a better place to enjoy a refreshing glass of Rosé the Riveter (one of the better pun wine names I’ve encountered). Representing the “world’s first cause wine portfolio dedicated to equality for all people,” a percentage of all Equality Vine sales proceeds are donated or directed to partners fighting for equality. To date, that’s about $162,000 that has helped various organizations
“If we write a $5,000 check to the Human Rights Campaign it doesn’t really move the needle, but if we donate $5,000 to Face-to-Face here in Sonoma, that’s a big deal,” says founder Matt Grove, who started the B-corporation venture with business partner Jim Obergefell, who’s known nationally as the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court same-sex marriage equality case.
“He and I have a shared love of wine and we wanted to have some impact, and when we decided that we were going to do this we sat down in New York over about five bottles of wine and started drawing logos on napkins, and there we are,” beams Grove, whose passion is palpable. It also results in a charmer of a summer sipper— a quietly piquant rhodolite garnet-colored wine that boasts hints of Meyer lemon zest and a pinch of fresh thyme. A perfect way to end the day—or start the evening. We’ll have to see.
Daedalus Howell is the Bohemian’s editor and otherwise at daedalushowell.com.