Why are you going to Boise? Do you know someone in Idaho?
Those were the two questions I was repeatedly asked by everyone when I informed them I was going to visit Boise, Idaho, the City of Trees. I’ll tell you my answers at the end of this post.
As I departed the prop job of a plane, stepping onto the tarmac, I knew I was in for a new experience in Idaho and I was so looking forward to it. The Alaska Airlines flight had brought me on the hour flight from Portland, Oregon to this high desert area. Not expecting a more tan colored landscape with shrubbery, river canyons, and grassy hills, my eyes, looking out the plane window and now the Mercedes/Uber, were taking it all in as we pulled into The Modern Hotel and Bar. I’ll say it right now, there didn’t seem to be any pretentious opulence in Boise, Idaho, but there is an adequate amount of finish, polish, and comfort. And that goes for The Modern Hotel and Bar, too. What was once a run-down Guest Lodge is now The Modern. Local architect Dwaine Carver and interior designer Kerry Tullis were commissioned to do a complete renovation with all the modern amenities. With its James Beard Award-nominated chef in the kitchen preparing handcrafted plates showcasing locally-sourced produce and meats, the restaurant/bar/courtyard will be hard to leave.
But there was more to see in Boise. The flight landed around 4 PM so it was not time to partake in my first culinary stop, Richard's was a refreshing walk from The Modern and still downtown. Being someone who enjoys learning a city by putting one foot in front of the other, downtown Boise is an easy and walkable experience.
Richard relocated his Café Vicino in 2016 to the Inn at 500 Capitol, where he and his staff are able to offer an experience to remember. From their decadent appetizer options, to the rustic and refined entrees(I had options in these two categories both wrapped in prosciutto), to a dessert that I would walk across any city to have, Richard’s gets more than a nod for quality, ambiance, aperitifs, and a wonderful chef. Richard Langston himself came out and said hello, told me his story of school at LSU, time in the business world in Dallas and San Francisco, and then his switch to cooking and the move to Boise. What put a smile on my face was that I heard the story from him, but many of the people I met knew his story, too just from watching him and his business grow. Did knowing that a great man was in charge of the restaurant with his name on it was back in the kitchen make the food taste better? No, it was great already, but knowing did put a smile on my face.
A simple 3-minute walk from The Modern was Big City Coffee. Not being a coffee drinker, I ordered the large vanilla chai tea that would last me through the morning. The Rodeo Wrap was another gargantuan purchase that fueled me for the rest of the day. Big City Coffee with its mix-match furniture, decorations, and great staff would be THE breakfast haunt of choice if I lived in Boise and I wish it was in my city so I could try everything on the menu.
A visit to the Boise Art Museum was what I was fueling up for. I was a little upset at my visit because they do not allow photography in the museum and about 4 of the rooms were shut down because of new exhibits going up. This little BAM was definitely a bam to my artistic taste buds. Whomever is doing the selection for the museum must be my twin for the mix of art, textures, mediums, everything was something I wanted to look at, learn more about, and put in my home. One of the current exhibits is Matteo Pugliese: The Guardians.
Breakfast was starting to fade, but a liquid lunch was on the menu. I headed over to the Payette Brewery and was able to spend some quality time with Nina Schoofs. The website calls her a cellar woman, but if I recall correctly (I was drinking) she is one of the two brewers on staff. I am grateful for her time and the tour around the plant, which used to be a recreational facility. Beer is kept and brewed where raquette ball courts were at one time and there was a pool where the bar area is now. Steve, beertender and tour guide, was manning the front of the house and was such a great host to all. Put this one on a must do when in town, not only for the great people, but the beers were spot on great.
Established in 2010, Payette has grown into one of the largest breweries in the state. Their mission is to brew awesome beers while also building a culture that connects, educates, makes a difference and champions the craft brew industry. A frequent gathering spot, Payette Brewery has more than just beers—they are a frequent host for events and community giving opportunities. Year-round brewery favorites include their Blood Orange Rustler IPA, Mutton Buster Brown Ale and Northfork Lager.
After the pretty people of Payette pinted me up, I was off to meet another phenomenal person behind a bar, this time Meredith Schmidt, the Wine Bar Manager at Coiled Wine Bar Tasting. Needless to say, she did her job well as I left Boise with a bottle of an amazing red. While there, I ran into a family that used to own a winery and they gave me an education about different reds, grapes, and earth.
Coiled is named in honor of Idaho’s first grape-growing region, the Snake River Valley. Coiled officially launched with the release of their Syrah in 2008. In the past decade the winery has grown from a collaborative wine making space with two other wineries, into their own winery and a second tasting room. Their wines are made from Idaho grapes and include a dry Riesling, syrah blend, petit verdot blend, a petite syrah and a Chablis-style chardonnay—all made from vine to wine under the Coiled roof.
The Basque Market was established in December 2000, on the Basque Block in Downtown Boise, Idaho. Since Opening, the Basque Market has quickly become the leader in Basque catering, and is famous for preparing large paellas for parties, weddings, anniversaries, and other events. Every Wednesday and Friday at noon they prepare a paella from start to finish right on the patio. Spanish-style pintxos (Basque for tapas) are served for lunch along with other specials and flavors that change daily. The Basque Market is home to classes, events, private parties, paella feeds, and even a market filled with specialty ingredients. You can head across the street and visit the Basque Museum and Cultural Center (611 W Grove Street)
Boise has the largest concentration of Basques outside of Spain. They are a large part of the cities culture and there’s an entire city block dedicated to them.
On my third day in Boise, I was to have a little bit of a nature day.
Once again, walking from The Modern, I was off to check out not one, but two Farmer’s markets.
- The Capital City Public Market on 8th and Idaho https://www.capitalcitypublicmarket.com
- Boise Farmers Market on 10th and Grove http://www.theboisefarmersmarket.com
Capital City was more of true definition of farmer’s market, with its vegetables, produce, simple goods, beverages, and some booths offering edible constructions. Go to this one if you are looking to bring home items for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks after dinner. The 10th and Grove option is more about prepared foods, art, trinkets, more for the tourist traveling through town. Food could still be found here as I enjoyed a crepe, some barbecue sauce, and a ginger beer, not in that order and not from the same booth.
After the markets were done, it was the perfect time and place to pick up a quick Uber to the Idaho Botanical Gardens to meet Adan Callsen, Event Director and LGBT community member.
The Idaho Botanical Garden (IBG) is a nonprofit botanical garden located on 50 acres (200,000 m2) at 2355 North Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, Idaho, United States. Until 1973 the site served as the Old Idaho State Penitentiary's farm and nursery. After the penitentiary was closed, the land lay dormant for more than a decade, and in 1984 the gardens were first created. The facility is operated by a private, non-profit corporation.
As Adan showed me around the grounds, I learned about the massive opportunities for interaction he tries to schedule with the gardens and the the community. As he is informing me of concerts, pride events, weddings that occur on the grounds, I'm in awe of the beauty, simplicity, as well as massive amounts of prep and planning that go on at the gardens. While I was visiting, they were having a scarecrow show where businesses in the community created scarecrows to be placed in the gardens for all ages to enjoy.
Is there nightlife in Boise?
The weekend before a Wednesday Halloween in any city could be awesome or it could be a flop. Little did I know, Trinity Taylor was in town to host a drag competition at The Balcony Club, right in the heart of downtown on North 8th Street. The location of this bar translates into the patrons that come here. The bar is welcoming of all and all are seen in this bar. From all walks of life to all genders and sexualities seem to pop in. During the show I saw gay kids with their mothers, a muscle man picking up a drag queen, the typical gays, a good amount of lesbians, it was really a mix of people attending Miss Taylor’s night at The Balcony Club. I would recommend this as a place for anyone and expect to see everyone there.
On Saturday, I ventured out to the more gentlemen’s establishment, Lucky Dog Tavern. What equates to Boise’s Eagle, Ram Rod, Lafittes, Blackstone’s, my experience at the Lucky Dog’s was as their Halloween celebration was in full swing and they were just getting to deciding their Halloween champion as I walked in. As the crowd was busy, it gave me some time to see the locals showing their stuff on stage, to meet the bartenders, and to meet the owners Keith Phillips and Daniel Baker. Thanks guys for the hospitality. You made me feel very welcome, but I think that is how you set up your establishment. Just be you and have fun.
Why are you going to Boise? Do you know someone in Idaho?
My response to the first question was why not. And to many of the people I chatted with that have moved there, stayed there, and cannot dream of living elsewhere, they expressed the same sentiment “why not” when they told me about their migration to Idaho. Why not.
And as for the second question? No. I knew no one. But I know so many now. Every single person was amazing in Boise. They only had one issue, though, and it was with me. All of them said, do NOT tell everyone how great Boise is. We do not want to get overcrowded. We are an okay size now. Boise has gone through some recent growth but we’ve had enough.
So if you’re reading this and got this far, you’ve seen me paint a positive picture of Boise. I literally have nothing to say, ad about the city, except why is such a good city so far away?
Here are some other pictures of the trip as well as some helpful links, starting off with two food venues I visited and needed to share.
Madre – Boutique Taqueria
1034 S La Pointe St
Madre Boutique Taqueria is committed to establishing a new category of neighborhood restaurant that will maintain the classic attributes of comfort and affordability and continuously strive to deliver superior food and service. As part of our effort to meet these goals, we aim to bring people closer to the production of their food by incorporating regional, sustainably-grown ingredients whenever possible.
Boise Fry Company
204 North Capital Blvd.
Would you like a burger with your fries? At Boise Fry Company, visitors have choices of what kind of potato, cut, seasonings and even ketchups. Try the purple potato homestyle fries with some sriracha salt and spicy fry sauce, if you’re feeling adventurous. The burgers feature fresh bison, grass fed beef or black bean and quinoa vegan options. Everything is fresh, local and delicious.
The Modern Hotel and Bar
1314 W Grove Street, Boise, ID 83702
500 S. Capital Blvd, Suite 100
Big City Coffee
1416 West Grove Street
Boise Art Museum
670 Julia Davis Drive
Payette Brewery Tasting
733 South Pioneer Street
Coiled Wine Bar Tasting
1813 West Bannock Street
Idaho Botanical Gardens
2355 N Old Idaho Penitentiary Road
The Balcony Club
Lucky Dog Tavern
223 W Fairway Avenue