written by Beau Eastes | photos courtesy of The Boise Convention & Visitors Bureau
There’s a lot more to Boise than the blue turf.
Just a seventy-minute flight from Portland or a five-hour drive from Bend, Idaho’s capital city offers up an emerging food and drink scene, year-round outdoor activities and a creative class that knows no bounds.
The Modern Hotel & Bar on the northwest end of downtown captures the spirit of modern Boise as well as any place. A former Travelodge that owner Elizabeth Tullis spent a year renovating before reopening in 2007, The Modern—think hip and repurposed like Portland’s Jupiter Hotel but more approachable—has become a hub for travelers, artists and anyone who enjoys a good meal and a stiff drink.
On the north side of the hotel, a giant mural by Basque creative Judas Arrieta spans the entire building. A film festival of original shorts from around the world runs continuously on channel 39 on every TV in the hotel. And in the summer months, The Modern hosts short-story readings around a fire pit on its patio.
“Our feeling was always that Boise had such a wonderful creative community and very few outlets for them,” Tullis said. She named the hotel after a boarding house her grandparents ran for Basque sheepherders in the 1930s and ’40s in nearby Nampa. “Besides some galleries and openings, there weren’t really places for this growing art community that’s very diverse and very creative.”
That desire to create, explore and push boundaries extends into Boise’s kitchens and bars. State & Lemp offers fixed price, multi-course dinners that constantly change, depending on availability, season and chefs’ tastes. Bleubird, a weekday-only sandwich shop, not only bakes all its own bread, but also mixes its own sodas. try the pastrami Reuben and ginger lemonade.
Looking for brunch? Check out Saint Lawrence Gridiron. You can Google directions or just follow the sweet, sweet smell of smoked brisket to their front door. While it’s tough to pass up the shrimp and grits—save ‘em for a late lunch!—order the brisket Benedict. Also, the Mother Mary with a house-smoked Bloody mix is a nice complement to the meat and eggs.
Boise also makes for a great place to get a drink or three. Back at the bar in The Modern, you can order cocktails kept hot by rocks from the Boise River. Stop by the taproom at Woodland Empire Ale Craft for innovative craft beer. You can’t go wrong with the Foothills Experimental Series. Past versions include a Schwarzbier brewed with wild hyssop collected from the Boise foothills and a dry stout with smoked currant. Both were mind-blowingly good.
If you’re a bit of a barfly or just like gritty old taverns, make sure to grab a drink at Pengilly’s Saloon, one of the last great, old watering holes in the West. Bartenders work behind a Brunswick bar going on 115 years old. A stage that hosts local music acts and trivia nights nestles in one corner of the weathered and well-loved space, while a buffalo head stares at patrons from the opposite end.
You’re probably looking to do something other than eat and drink while you’re in heart of Treasure Valley. The Ride to Rivers and Avimor trail areas offer more than 220 miles of mountain biking within twenty minutes of downtown Boise. Bogus Basin ski resort, which sells unlimited adult season passes for as low as $299, is just 16 miles north of town. The Greenbelt along the Boise River provides bikers and runners with 25 miles of paved trails to explore.
So go ahead, exert yourself—but not to worry, Boise has plenty of fantastic places to refuel your body and refill your drink.