Naming restaurants can be a bear—but these Atlanta restaurateurs found inspiration in animals

In times and places when most people were illiterate, anyone could recognize a pub that was named the Fox and Hound, for instance, and illustrated accordingly. Widespread literacy hasn’t curtailed the practice.

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Fernando Little Bear
Fernando L. Bear, fluffy muse of Jarrett Stieber’s Summerhill restaurant

Photograph by Martha Williams

For a while in the early 2000s, El Bulli was the best and most famous restaurant in the world—and therefore the best and most famous restaurant in the world to be named after a dog. Eating at Ferran Adrià’s Catalonian temple of gastronomy during a visit in 2005, I noticed a small statue of a pugnacious pup that also appeared as a logo on the menu. As it turned out, the mascot had its roots in 1961, when a German couple, Hans and Marketta Schilling, built a beach bar on this lonely stretch of coast. Their fondness for French bulldogs led them to the name of the restaurant they eventually opened here—but, until Adrià signed on as chef more than two decades later, they could hardly have imagined such a stellar trajectory for El Bulli.

From heraldry to symbolism, many eating establishments have hung out shingles that refer to familiar animals. In times and places when most people were illiterate, anyone could recognize a pub that was named the Fox and Hound, for instance, and illustrated accordingly. Widespread literacy hasn’t curtailed the practice: See the trendsetting Manhattan restaurant the Quilted Giraffe, followed by the Whale Wins, the Spotted Pig, Ox, Animal, State Bird Provisions, Barley Swine, Blackbird, Girl & the Goat—or any of the similarly named restaurants that have achieved fame in recent decades across the country. Perhaps their owners believed an animal would bring luck.

In Atlanta, Nhan Le and his various partners have spun a whole web of dining establishments named after the soft-bodied cephalopod whose resilience and adaptability they invoke, including Octopus Bar, 8Arm, and Lusca—a sadly defunct Buckhead seafood joint as well as a mythical sea creature. Jarrett and Hallie Stieber’s towering Great Pyrenees, Fernando L. Bear—aka Little Bear—has a huge presence in the life of their restaurant. Fernando, whom I first met as a puppy on a leash at the Freedom Farmers Market, has his own Instagram account (@ambassadorofadorable) and is always mentioned as part of Little Bear’s creative team—as well as being listed on the door as proprietor.

When it comes to dogs versus cats in naming restaurants, the former clearly have the numerical advantage. Outside of cat cafes, the only feline name I can think of is Gato in Candler Park. When Nicholas Stinson took over the spot from its original owner, it was called Gato Bizco (“crosseyed cat”) and cluttered with feline figurines. The name was shortened, the junk disappeared progressively, and the now much more creative, Mexican-inspired restaurant is as sleek and agile as its four-legged inspiration.

For a long time, One Eared Stag in Inman Park was at the top of my list as the embodiment of a relaxed, chef-driven restaurant serving creative cuisine and great cocktails. But Robert Phalen closed his magic spot just as promises of victory over the pandemic seemed at hand, packing up everything—including the mounted head of the actual one-eared stag that used to hang behind the bar.

Pets, alas, have limited life spans—but when their time comes, the name can continue as sweet tribute. A few years ago, Aaron Russell and his wife, Jamie, rescued a pathetic pit bull from a shelter where he was about to be put to sleep. Hendrix had a smooth, gray coat and a heart of gold, but he suffered so many ailments that friends of the couple always responded with a sigh when told of his challenges: “Aw, poor Hendrix.” The dog passed away suddenly in 2019—but Poor Hendrix endures in East Lake as a delightful neighborhood gastropub.

This article appears in our August 2021 issue.

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