Upon his first visit in 1906, Clarence Darrow -- one of the 20th
Century’s most famous American lawyers -- proclaimed Boise to be the “Athens of
the sagebrush” due to the desert town’s vibrant culture. But for travellers,
the Idaho capital’s main draw has long been its location in the foothills of
the Rocky Mountains, perfect for hiking and mountain biking.
the early 2000s, city leaders launched an initiative to make the often
culturally underrated Boise the “most
liveable city in the country”, revitalizing many of the city’s neighbourhoods
and putting a new focus on art, local food and environmental sustainability.
And to top it all off, in 2013 Boise will commemorate its sesquicentennial with
a whole year of celebrations, fittingly called Boise 150.
As the most
geographically isolated urban area of the Lower 48 (Reno, Nevada is 334 miles
away, Portland, Oregon is 348 miles away and Salt Lake City, Utah is 350 miles
away), Boise has always had to provide its own art and culture. Over the last
decade, the city government has made a concentrated effort to increase artistic
funding, resulting in city-wide public murals, mosaics and sculptures,
including the River Sculpture in front of the Grove Hotel, which depicts the
central Boise River. The Boise 150 program will take this artistic focus one
step further with legacy projects like new public art installations.
unique location also means that art often blends with nature, and the summer audiences
seated in the Idaho Shakespeare
Festival’s 770-seat natural outdoor amphitheatre may see herons, geese or
deer during a performance of Romeo and Juliet or The Winter’s Tale. Since 1976,
the repertory theatre has put on five or six shows between May and September
each year, and watching a show under the stars has become a much-loved local
Opera Idaho, the state’s only
professional opera company, will be celebrating its 40th anniversary
in 2013. In collaboration with Boise-based Ballet
Idaho, the opera is performing Pagliacci
with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite in March, along with its Boise 150
performance of Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah in May. All the main stage
performances are held in the elaborately gilded and decorated Egyptian Theatre, which was built in
1927 during an increase in Egyptian Revival-style buildings across the country
following the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb in Egypt. The theatre will also host
the Boise 150 Kick off Night on 9 February 2013.
newcomer to the Boise arts scene is the Trey
McIntrye Project. Award-winning dancer and choreographer Trey McIntyre
formed his touring contemporary ballet company in 2008, and despite being able
to set up shop anywhere in US, he chose Boise. Co-founder John Michael Schert explained the surprising
decision as “an opportunity to create a sense of ownership amongst the
citizenry in which a dance company could be upheld as a paragon of what it
means to be a Boisean – creative, entrepreneurial and proud.”
150, the Trey McIntrye Project will continue their Boise Bright Spot Project, where
dancers unexpectedly descend on an urban space, like a restaurant or on the
street, and perform.
A river runs through it
of Idaho boomed during the 1860s Gold Rush as a stop for pioneers moving west
along the Oregon Trail.
Explorers and trappers who approached the area from the east saw the tree-lined
Boise River as a lush beacon in the middle of desert and mountains. But until
the 1960s, the river was neglected and its banks were a dumping ground. Now, the
banks have been reclaimed as the Boise River
beloved 25-mile tree-lined walking and cycling path that connects 850 acres of
park space and provides an alternate commuter route.
easily navigable class II rapids on the six-mile stretch between Barber Park
Morrison Park, and floating the river is a favourite summer pastime. But for
a greater challenge, local companies like River Roots teach white-water
kayaking in hard shell play boats.
paddlers can play on the waves at the Boise
River Recreation Park; opened in June 2012, the park was 14 years in the
making and started as a dream of local river runners. McLaughlin Whitewater
Design Group, who designed the 1996 Olympic white-water course in Atlanta,
Georgia, developed the quarter mile stretch of river between Main Street and Veterans
Memorial Park where surfers and kayakers can “park and play” on the two
waves controlled by nine underwater gates that regulate water flow. This is
phase one of an ongoing project; the next is developing the nearby Esther
Simplot Community Park to include pathways, picnic shelters and a stream,
expanding the white-water features downstream, and building a “lazy river” – a
slow flow channel connecting three ponds for tubing and rafting.
is a major theme of the Boise 150 celebration, and the Basque community from
north-central Spain and southwestern France plays an integral part in local
history. Basque immigrants congregated in the area in two waves, first in the
1890s and then in the 1930s and 1940s, and today almost 10% of Boise’s
approximately 211,000 residents have Basque heritage.
Basque festivals are held
throughout the year, and in downtown’s Basque
Block (on Grove Street between 6th Street and Capitol Boulevard)
the pavement is coloured red and green to match the Basque flag. The Basque Market sells specialty
food and gifts, like Vindaro Añejo vinegar and handmade ceramics, and a Basque Museum and Cultural Center has
exhibitions on Basque history and holds language classes. For Boise 150, the
museum will renovate its most-prized artefact: the Cyrus
Jackobs/Uberauaga House, which noted Boise pioneer Cyrus Jacobs built in
Basque history combine at Bar
Gernika on the Basque Block, where the menu places classic American dishes
like burgers and fries next to traditional foods like lamb kabobs and croquetas (deep fried balls of chicken
and onion). Along with local beers, the bar also serves red tempranillo wines
from the Basque region and kalimotxo,
the Basque cocktail of red wine and Coca Cola served over ice.
about anyone to name an Idaho food, and the answer is likely potatoes. And for
good reason -- the soil and climate make it perfect for growing this tuber, and
the Idaho potato is world famous, led by the Boise-based JR Simplot Company who
patented the frozen french-fry and provides McDonald’s with more than 50% of
award-winning restaurant Boise Fry Company
puts the spud centre stage and serves its burgers (vegan or free-range local
beef or bison) on the side. There are thousands of options to choose from, with
six potato options (russet, purple, okinawa, sweet, Yukon old and yam), five
preparation styles (from homestyle fries to fried balls of mashed potato), a
selection of flavoured salts (vanilla, jalapeno, cinnamon or ginger) and several
dipping sauces (blueberry ketchup or sour thai). The most decadent is the
“bourgeois” fries, fried in duck fat and sprinkled with truffle salt.
food is more than just the potato. Cameron Lumsden, owner of the restaurant Fork, which opened in early 2011, has pledged
to create a seasonally changing menu sourced from suppliers from across the
northwestern United States, serving dishes such as sea scallops with acorn
squash and smoke mushroom risotto. Many drinks are locally sourced too, such as
the American Lavender cocktail made of American Harvest organic vodka
from the Snake River Valley, local lavender and mint and house-infused lavender
food movement is supported by downtown side-by-side sister restaurants Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge. The
former sources food from 30 nearby ranches and farmers and has a rotating
selection of 39 craft beers on tap. The latter, a cocktail lounge with 61
different cocktails, uses metal straws (no plastic to toss) and reduces their
carbon footprint by dimming the lights for two hours each day.
And it is
not just restaurants that are eco-friendly. Hundreds of buildings in the Warm
Springs district and more than 65 businesses downtown, including the Capitol
Building, are heated by geothermal energy thanks to Boise’s location on
natural geothermal reservoirs.