Boise, pronounced BOY-see not BOY-zee, straddles the border of the Rocky Mountains and the Pacific Northwest, meaning Idaho’s capital city is often overlooked—and underrated. That’s slowly changing: Boise was the fastest-growing city in the country last year.
As a college town marked by the signature blue turf at Boise State University, Boise has a young, hip vibe. Its reputation as an adventure destination is growing, with a river cutting through town, more than 250 miles of easily accessible single-track trails, and climbing and skiing venues less than 15 miles from the capitol.
Though perhaps a little behind the national trend, Boise has a burgeoning craft beer and cocktail scene that sees new establishments opening every month.
Framed by a mountainous backdrop and the iconic capitol building, the heart of Boise’s downtown is as good a place as any to start exploring. The downtown district is very walkable, but bike lanes abound for those who want swifter passage.
Start on 8th street, a pseudo-walking mall lined with local mainstays. If you know you want quality, locally sourced food and drinks, but aren’t sure what mood you’re in, head to the complex owned by restaurateurs Dave Krick and Jami Adams. For fire-roasted fun, go to Diablo & Sons Saloon, where tacos, mezcal, and tequila reign supreme.
Next door is Bittercreek Ale House and its extensive tap list, which for 25 years has been recognized as one of the country’s best beer bars. If a more subdued atmosphere is your style, the Red Feather Lounge serves up exquisite seasonal cuisine and creative takes on classic cocktails, including a recent literary-themed menu.
The gastrobar Juniper toasts repeal with “Vote Against Prohibition” stenciled across an interior brick wall. Gin is a favorite here, as is the spicy duck ramen.
Nearby, with wall-to-wall windows overlooking one of the busiest corners in Boise, The Mode Lounge offers an art deco vibe and house-made ingredients to ensure the highest quality cocktail offerings.
The high ceilings of Water Bear Bar are draped in greenery, shrouding the venue with a mountain tiki presence. Take them up on their tiki twist with the Old Fashioned of the Day.
If brunch and drinks are a must, look no further than Bacon, where the best bloody Mary’s in town are available all day—served, of course, with your choice of specialty bacon.
Cater to your inner James Bond with a visit to Chandler’s Steakhouse and order the iconic slow martini. This vodka and gin version is neither shaken nor stirred but rather placed in ice for 10 minutes to achieve gastronomic perfection. The nightly live jazz will keep you company during the wait.
For the wine inclined, take a trip to the Boise Co-Op wine shop and attached Uncorked! Wine Bar, where you’ll find a world-class selection of wines for sale and a rotating tasting menu to help you discover a new favorite vintage.
“Old fashioned” describes both the ambiance and most popular drink at Press & Pony, where mustachioed bar manager Erik Schweitzer served more than 11,000 old fashioneds in 2019. Stick around long enough and someone behind the bar is likely to heat up the small space with a fire-breathing display. If the belly starts to rumble, order your choice of taters (you are in Idaho after all) from neighboring Boise Fry Company.
You can’t skip out on visiting the Basque Block (the cultural heart of the city’s Basque community) and the nation’s first restaurant distillery, Bardenay, whose very name means “cocktail.” Order an extra dirty martini with the signature house-made gin and opt for the Basque olive.
Another epicenter of downtown, the historic BoDo district is a short walk from the riverside Greenbelt path and several of the city’s largest parks.
Unleash your inner sommelier at Bodovino, a wine bar that features 144 wines split among 18 self-serve machines. The format makes this the perfect place to educate yourself on the wine regions of the world, one pour at a time.
Cross the street to The Stil, a gelato bistro with booze-infused flavors. Get a beer float or choose a flight to pair your choice of beer or wine with several scoops of ice cream.
For a throwback vibe, take in the scene at the Gas Lantern Drinking Co. and let the olfactory allure of wood smoke appeal to your inner lumbersexual. The easily overlooked bartop smoker can fit most drinks, regardless of whether the recipe requires it or not. Pick a specialty, such as the Smoke & Thyme (Elijah Craig, local bitters, smoked lemon, oak smoke and fresh thyme), then stick to the theme and order a bite to eat from Smoke & Thyme, the kitchen and smokehouse that also caters to next door White Dog Brewing. Order a Scotch Ale from the bar, where the ice strip will keep your drink cold while you read about the human/pup mascot duo for each flagship brew.
Leave the BoDo boundary and head upriver to Barbacoa, a part museum, part fine-dining experience. Every piece of decor has a story, from the 13-foot-long Medusa sculpture to the 18th-century Turkish wine arch. Chef Enrique Martinez creates a menu that celebrates South American and Spanish influences including the signature “Hot Rock” filet mignon with a flamed Cognac sauce.
The Linen District
Just a few streets over from the main downtown drag, this up-and-coming, six-block section of town is marked by its namesake Linen Building, an old geothermal laundry-turned-events center.
Several rock fire pits dot the courtyard of the boutique Modern Hotel and Bar. Inside, James Beard semifinalist chef Nate Whitley oversees a superb menu that includes gnocchi that GQ once described as “ethereal.”
The same owners operate Txikiteo (a Basque word for a wine-and-tapas pub crawl), an intimate space with an open kitchen that lets you watch the chefs in action. The wine list is expansive, with most bottles sourced from the Basque Country or neighboring regions.
If limited choices bore you, stop in at Hops & Bottles, the ultimate combination of cute dogs and too many options. In addition to 21 taps, Hops offers 15 fridges of cans and bottles, each available onsite for a miniscule uncorking fee. Attempts to count the number of offerings usually trail off after 500. Puppies are always welcome to make friends while you drink.
For a late-night hangout, HandleBar offers a wide selection of beer and wine in a bicycle themed space. Between numerous board games (giant Jenga too!) and weekly creative indoor “bike races,” you won’t want for excitement.
Garden City is an up-and-coming, city-within-a-city nestled next to the river and surrounded on all sides by Boise. A straight shot down Chinden Boulevard will pass by taprooms galore and, in good weather, this is an easily bikeable route.
Barbarian Brewing lays its claim as the forefront of the recent wave of new drinking establishments in the area. The small brewery specializes in sours and barrel-aged beer, along with more experimental recipes such as its ice cream ale series.
Next, bump down a few storefronts to Meriwether Cider. The pours, all made from Northwest apples, excellently bridge the gap between wine and beer, catering to everyone.
Continuing down the boulevard towards downtown, a bright yellow-and-teal-sided warehouse will beckon. Split Rail Winery has a funky industrial vibe where you can glimpse the production of its core Rhone varietals.
Keep up the wine tasting with stops down the street at the Coiled Winery tasting room and then Telaya Wine Co., where the patio is mere feet from the Boise River, making it the perfect evening hangout.
If the weather is warm, it would be foolish to skip Western Collective’s outdoor beer garden, which often features a live DJ, cornhole, and a wading pool. The taproom opens early with coffee and espresso, so it’s possible to be productive before transitioning to the frozen favorites like Aperol slush and frosé.