Margrit Mondavi’s quirky book-promoting itinerary took the 87-year-old artist from book signings at the Smithsonian Institution and the museums of modern art in San Francisco and New York to The Bucket of Blood, a revitalized old saloon in Cambria.
The petite Mondavi, from Coombsville near Napa, is the widow of winemaking legend Robert Mondavi. She’s also an artist, author of two cookbooks and founder of events that have become legends in the famed Napa Valley wine region, including the Great Chefs cooking-class series and jazz, opera and classical music festivals.
Why would the octogenarian dynamo promote her book in a small coastal town she’d never stopped in before to raise funds for a Cambria cause she hadn’t even known existed?
Mondavi recently re-made the acquaintance of Jim Evans, whom she first met some four decades ago, at an art class in Mexico.
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Evans, 82, and his partner, Tom Gerst, 84, just moved their Gerst & Evans Antiques store — which began in Long Beach about 40 years ago with treasures bought from William Randolph Hearst’s San Simeon warehouses — from West Hollywood to a historic Cambria building.
“How can you not love a place called The Bucket of Blood?” Mondavi said. “I’m so glad Jim didn’t change the name. It is fantastic, so unique and all filled with the history of the West.”
In its century plus, the late-1890s building has housed a wild assortment of businesses, from a blacksmith shop to a newspaper office, Painted Sky Recording Studio (now relocated to Harmony), and in the mid-1940s, Rip and Riley’s saloon, restaurant and dance hall. Saturday-night dances there reportedly included fervent fistfights, so Cambrians nicknamed the place The Bucket of Blood Saloon.
Evans has had extensive restoration done to The Bucket of Blood, is re-establishing their shop inside and hopes to expand the building so they can continue their practice of living on the premises.
Evans himself has deep North Coast roots. He grew up on a ranch north of Piedras Blancas Light Station and is a 1948 Coast Joint Union High School graduate. He has owned the property at 4111 Center St. since 2001.
Evans and Gerst were about to mark the opening of their business. Mondavi was promoting her new book, “Margrit Mondavi’s Sketchbook: Reflections on Wine, Food, Art, Family, Romance, and Life,” ($35) part biography, part diary, part cookbook and part sketchbook.
They decided to celebrate their new endeavors together, and also support the drive to build a new Cambria Library.
The Friends of the Library “has done a marvelous job for a wonderful cause,” Evans said. He recommended the group to Mondavi as a worthy recipient of donations.
Friends President Jeri Farrell estimates about 200 people attended the invitation-only fundraiser, book signing and new business reception. About 90 books were sold. Mondavi donated the entire $35 for each book, so the Friends group made about $3,000 at the event.
Farrell said the group still must raise about $70,000 to meet its goal, but it has begun preparing to go out for bids for the work that will turn an empty shell of a building at 1043 Main St. into a fully outfitted new library.
“We were so lucky to have her here,” Farrell said of Mondavi. “She’s such a charmer.”