When JJ Wandler was driving through a Hillyard neighborhood earlier this year, he noticed a “For Lease” sign in front of the historic Hillyard Branch Library building.
“I pulled over, dialed the number and set up a meeting with the building owner. I told him I wanted (the building) on the spot,” Wandler said. “I took it and then started trying to figure out what to do with it.”
It didn’t take long for Wandler and business partner Stephen Drzewicki to find a use for the building, which is on the Spokane Register of Historic Places.
Last month, Wandler and Drzewicki opened The Bad Seed, a restaurant and bar featuring craft cocktails and a Tex-Mex inspired menu that infuses Oaxaca and cotija cheeses from LakeWolf Creamery in Deer Park.
Popular menu items are smoked-carnitas tacos with pork shoulder, avocado sauce and habanero slaw; a torta with house-smoked brisket on a bolillo roll; and enchiladas with choice of smoked pork, brisket or soyrizo, a soy-based meat alternative to chorizo, Wandler said.
The Bad Seed offers a variety of beers and cider on tap, in addition to specialty craft cocktails with names referencing novels.
“I played up the idea that this was a former library building,” Wandler said.
“(The space) has a lot of built in cabinets and I filled them all with books as a nod to its history as a library.”
The Hillyard Branch Library building was constructed in 1929 and designed by notable local architectural firm, Whitehouse & Price.
The building functioned as the Hillyard branch of the Spokane library system until its closure in 1983, according to a Spokane Register of Historic Places nomination document.
The building has also been home to a school, church and, most recently, the Hillyard Library Sports Bar.
While the building already had a kitchen area and a bar, the layout wasn’t conducive to Wandler’s vision for a restaurant.
He refinished the bar top, painted the building’s interior and removed sports logos placed on the floor by its previous tenant.
“I’m interested in maintaining (the building’s) historic character,” Wandler said.
Prior to leasing the building, Wandler always had admired the structure’s exterior, which mostly has remained unchanged since it was constructed in 1929.
“I loved the exterior of the building and always wondered what was going on inside,” he said.
“There seemed to be a mismatch of ideas that ran from a sports bar to a barbershop, but all were disappointing to me. I thought it had potential to be something more than that.”
An experienced business owner and restaurateur, Wandler previously co-owned Garageland in downtown Spokane and currently owns Gainsbourg, a French restaurant in Seattle.
Wandler also operated a vintage record and goods store before venturing back into the restaurant industry.
The Bad Seed has garnered an “amazing response” from patrons since opening, Wandler said.
“Everyone who has come in has said, ‘This is what Spokane needed,’ ” Wandler said.
Wandler is planning additional renovations to The Bad Seed to make way for a reservation-only space for groups.
The restaurant will also open its patio in the spring for outdoor dining, he said.
Wandler said he’s focused on making The Bad Seed an asset to the surrounding residential area.
“I’m really interested in being a good neighbor and ensuring folks are happy to have me in the neighborhood,” he said.Amy Edelen can be reached at (509) 459-5581 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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