Literary City Guide | Napa, CA
Tour Guide: Lori Narlock
Reader. Writer. Cook. Collector. Lori is also a mom, wife and public relations professional who lives in Napa Valley. She is the author of more than a dozen culinary books and one novel with more on the way. A life-long lover of good stories, she founded a small electronic publishing company with her husband called Hang Time Press.
Relationship to Napa: I moved to Napa the summer I sold my first cookbook. I was living the quintessential writer’s life: squatting in my sister’s garage, which we then dubbed the Garoom. Not quite a shack, it was at least 70 years old with the one window on the wall held in place with nails and the others were covered with plastic. It had a single bed and a desk where I typed after researching and writing outside. At the time, I convinced myself it was romantic; looking back I wonder how I made it through the wet, cold winter.
Writer you'd like to invite to dinner: Richard Russo
Chef you'd like to prepare the meal: Sarah Scott. She's one of the best cooks I've ever known and she is a fellow writer.
Writing soundtrack: NPR
Pen or Pencil: Pen
Coffee or Tea: Coffee in the morning; tea in the afternoon
Paperback or Hardback: Paperback if I can wait; Hardcover when I’m impatient. And ebooks anytime.
Napa Bookmine. An indie bookstore, Napa Bookmine is a book lover’s dream. It has two locations in Napa, a staff comprised of well-read individuals and an owner whose enthusiasm for books, writers and readers is changing the literary landscape of Napa. The main store, on Pearl Street, buys and sells used books in addition to selling new books and other merchandise. The store is the location for readings, open mics and its own monthly book club. The second location is in the Oxbow market, which began as a single-wall newsstand that I coveted on a daily basis. It’s evolved into thriving space that is perfect for grabbing a book to read while sipping a beer from Fieldwork across the market or a glass of wine from Oxbow Wine & Cheese on the patio.
Copperfield's Books. With two locations in Napa Valley and more in surrounding towns, Copperfield’s Books is a tiny independent chain that is my go-to bookstore. My criteria for a good bookstore is mainly three things. The first is wooden shelves that are full. The second is a place where new paperbacks can be browsed through easily. And the third is a staff that appears to love books as much as I do. Copperfield’s meets these demands and then surpasses them with a small but good magazine selection, a collection of silly books and gift items that can always be relied on for that last minute gift and author readings.
Main Street Books. I find this tiny shop irresistible because of its floor to ceiling stacks of books. Its size belies its inventory, which is up-to-date and pretty diverse.
Napa County Library. Our main library is everything a small—and large—town library should be. It hosts a bunch of book-related programs, including readings, book sales, childrens’ storytelling and even a “Read to a Dog” session. It’s also a huge resource for writers, with a variety of programs aimed at anyone with the desire to write, from its ongoing Teen Write Club to its annual nanawrimo activities. The librarians are super helpful and tied in to the community beyond the library’s concrete walls.
St. Helena Public Library. This library is tiny by comparison to the main library, but has something totally unique to its location—a wine library. The wine library is a comprehensive selection of the expected: books about wine, and also a treasure trove of periodicals and other publications chronicling the history of Napa Valley’s wine industry. It’s a must-see for book lovers who also love wine.
READINGS & CONFERENCES
Copperfield's Bookstore. Readings are hosted in the store and in the culinary center in Whole Foods next door. They aren’t that frequent—not surprising for our small town that’s more wine and farm than literary focused. Nonetheless the caliber of authors and events is substantial.
Napa County Library. Our main library hosts multiple readings by authors. The selection is diverse, from cookbook authors, like Janet Fletcher discussing the art of cookbooks.
St. Helena Library. Like our main library, the St. Helena branch hosts a few readings each year.
California Writers Club. The Napa Valley has its own branch of the California Writers Club and it hosts a monthly event, from open mic night to guest speakers.
Napa Valley Writers' Conference. This annual summer event is comprised of well-known authors and the-yet-to-be discovered writer, all gathered for a series of reading and lectures.
Pennyweight. I have a bit of a stationary fetish. I can’t resist a beautiful notebook and embossed cards are like little treasures I can never part with once purchased. To satisfy my cravings for thick paper and delicate designs I head to Pennyweight in St. Helena. There’s two walls lined with cards that all look as though they are one of a kind and a back wall devoted to boxes of stationary, journals and other types of stationary.
Robert Louis Stevenson Museum. This space is fairly small, but for the literary fan it shouldn’t be missed.
Napa Valley Film Festival. The Napa Valley Film Festival not only offers an outstanding line-up of films in a broad range of genres, from shorts and documentaries to not-yet-released blockbuster movies, it also includes a pitch session for writers with a movie script or idea.
There are several places for great coffee, but not the kind of coffee shop where you can curl up with a great book.
A PROPER MEAL
Cook. I love a restaurant with a counter where I can lose myself in a book, magazine or notebook and still have a fabulous meal. Cook is this place. Its menu leans towards Italian, but its burger is outstanding.
Bistro Don Giovanni. Like Cook, I appreciate Bistro Don Giovanni for its counter. When I was single I spent many nights dining there and never felt alone. The homemade pasta dishes and seared salmon are especially delicious.
Redd Wood. Thomas Keller may be king of Yountville but Richard Reddington is next in line and his two restaurants, Redd and Redd Wood should be on everyone’s must-do dining list. Redd Wood is the more casual of the two and one I love for its crostini topped with chicken liver and its chopped salad. The pizzas are also outstanding as are the meatballs and pasta dishes.
Étoile. My daytime job is communications manager at Domaine Chandon. One of the biggest perks is the opportunity to dine at étoile. Chef Perry Hoffman is as much an artist as he is a cook and each plate is so pretty and delicious. Add in the fact that the entire menu can be paired with bubbly and well what’s not to love?
Angele. Angele evokes the sort of French restaurants where a Sunday afternoon is spent enjoying a leisurely lunch. It is one of my go-to restaurants with friends and family, so much so that my husband and I had our small wedding luncheon in the tiny room off the main dining room where we sipped Dom Perignon and toasted our good luck, which included having such a fabulous restaurant in our hometown.
Model Bakery. The perfect day is spent reading in the morning followed by work, which is interrupted by a break mid-afternoon. During that break Earl Grey tea and a cookie from Model Bakery are critical for maximum enjoyment.
Bouchon Bakery. This is a good place to go any time of the day. Muffins and coffee cakes seduce you in the morning, sandwiches call your name at lunch and the pastries, especially the eclairs are impossible to resist in the afternoon.
Butter Cream Bakery. For the early riser a donut from Butter Cream is the best way to boost start your day with a dose of high-octane sugar.
Lori's 5 Favorites
1. Favorite view: From the top of Alston Park in west Napa, where I once watched a freak—and very small—snow storm cross the valley floor.
2. Favorite place to write: At my desk where I can stare up into the blue sky.
3. Favorite museum: The Napa Valley Wine Library in the St. Helena Library.
4. Favorite coffee shop: Ritual Coffee Roasters in the Oxbow Market
5. Favorite thing about Napa: For as small as it is, it has a fairly substantial amount of cultural attractions, from the Napa Valley Film Festival to the Writer’s Conference.