While in Boise for Downtown Boise Restaurant Week, a common sentiment overheard among locals went something like, “the cuisine here is just as impressive as in foodie cities like Portland.” 

Using the trends, décor and farm-to-table freshness as a benchmark, smaller cities across the U.S. are growing their restaurant scenes — and as we say — they’re having a bit of a renaissance. Boise is no different in its moment of a burgeoning food scene. Gas Lantern Drinking Co. located in downtown Boise is one new restaurant adding to the buzz in the City of Trees.  

Upon entering the bar, there’s tufted leather sofas, painted brick walls, a tiled bar and wood floors. The bar doesn’t have the embellishments sometimes overdone in restaurant décor: artwork and plaques in the shape of the state, icons of the city and paintings of the state’s landscape. All of things add up to be a constant reminder of the super-local moment we’re having in mid-size cities but none of this is found at Gas Lantern Drinking Co. 

“The concept is old meets new,” says owner Gavin Haley. “I wanted something very old school and classy but a with few modern touches as well. There’s a little bit of Southern influence in there as well.”

Sitting at the bar, casting a gaze throughout the space, it really could be a bar in any mid-size city. As smaller cities grow into their own identities (and sometimes go overboard), I appreciate an establishment that can just exist, without persistent reminder of the space and time it lives.  

After sliding up to the bar, I order my first cocktail specifically because it’s shaken with Idaho-based 44 North Potato Vodka. Other ingredients like maple syrup, apple cider, lemon juice and Thai basil leaves — picked from the herb wall nearby — round out this balanced cocktail.  

Gas Lantern Drinking Co. doesn’t actually have a kitchen nor do any of the other businesses sharing the building at Capital Boulevard and Fulton Street, LongDrop Cider and White Dog Brewing Co. The businesses here turn to Smoke & Thyme, the food trailer in the alley, also co-founded by Haley in March of 2016. 

“The White Dog [Brewing] guys were tearing out their kitchen so Smoke & Thyme was a solution so we could all serve food here,” Haley adds.  

Ordering food is seamless at Gas Lantern regardless of food being prepared in the food cart out back. I stayed lounging at the bar after giving my food order to the bartender. Menu items came out bright and delightful — and not in spite of being made in a food cart, or in Boise.  

Perfectly baked tofu on warm tortilla contrasts with bright green micro cilantro and pickled cabbage in the tofu tacos. Other menu items include such dishes as smoked brisket chimichangas, Sweet Tea-Bourbon plum smoked ribs, American Kobe burger and more.  

The smoke theme is carried out on the 20th century-inspired cocktail menu with an actual smoker for cocktail ingredients and the “Smoke & Thyme” cocktail. It’s first made using Elijah Craig bourbon, juice from smoked lemons, whiskey bitters and thyme grown in-house. Next it is placed in the smoker made from a handheld food smoker in a chamber connected to an igniter. While seemingly gimmicky, the smoker adds a nice toasty aroma to the nose of the cocktail.  

From the décor to the cocktail smoker and the food cart in the alley, Gas Lantern Drinking Co. has a genuine air about it that stands up, even to proclaimed foodie cities like Portland.