Pizza and libations make for a great weekend anywhere. And a visit to Boise – chock full of slices, brews, libations, activities and awesome places to stay – makes it a full-fledged summer getaway.
It’s an easy and beautiful six-ish hour drive from Portland, this author’s home base. It’s also close enough from much of Washington and the rest of the Northwest, with the caveat of a good head start of course, or perhaps a night in Portland to start the trip!
Get on the road early Friday from Portland and take the Interstate 84 east. It’s a drive that spans much of the Northwest’s best scenes: the Columbia River Gorge, the rolling cowboy-dotted hills of Pendleton, and the Umatilla National Forest. From there the route is a remote winding jaunt through Snake River territory on into Idaho’s rock walls, canyons and craggy dunes.
Make it into Boise just before dinner and settle into Modern Bar and Hotel in the Linen District for some urban relaxation after scouring the Northwest’s rugged landscapes. The Modern is a re-imagined mid-century travel lodge, complete with roomy suites and comfy fixtures. Its back wall features a beautiful, riveting mural entitled “Wonder Stories” making the hotel even more of an aesthetic, whimsical delight. Artful, high-minded yet affordable, the Modern features more than what’s on offer at the typical rest lodge. You can settle into your room for a quick refresh while the hotel’s own film festival programming provides ample stimulation, then head down to the crisp, lovely patio for some happy hour nibbles some of the best cocktails the city has to offer.
Mixology mastermind and Remi Courcenet, the manager of the hotel’s bar and restaurant, brings local flavor and a flair for community to the drink program. Gin and rum feature prominently with a dash of fresh herbs grown in the hotel’s own garden. Modern works with many local producers to source everything from its spirits to its entrees. The Long Weekend is a must have for summer nights, mingling bright cucumber, mint and lemon with rum. For cooler fall months, try the Red Hook, a peppy rye whiskey concoction with a frisky dash of orange oil and Punt e Mes.
Saturday morning is a great time to go out and see what Boise has to offer. Check out the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area for avian wildlife encounters or the Idaho Botanical Garden. A bit further out from the city and an easy hour and 45 minute drive is Sawtooth National Forest bursting with outdoor adventures like climbing, hiking and water sports.
After your day out, head out for a late night snack before your Saturday night bar crawl. Try Pie Hole, a regional chain with a distinct sense of revelry and laid back aesthetic – think that friendly, familiar slice chain from your hometown where you’d polish off a plain piece in the wee hours as a night cap. Pie Hole has several choices including the tried-and-true cheese and pepperoni plus the favorite roasted red pepper basil slice. Try the daily specials for more fun, like the “tomato soup” slice, a variety never-before seen by this very pie-savvy writer. Plus, if you need a pre-game drink, you can snag low-key beer offerings like PBR tallboys or Kokanee lager.
Another local chain, Extreme Pizza is a solid option closer to the edge of town near Boise State University and Albertson’s Stadium. Bursting with topping and sauce choices – everything from black bean sauce to vegan cheese and gluten free crust – options are a bit dizzying but offer something for every palate. There’s also the classic fare of wings, calzones and salads. A solid selection of local draft beer on tap makes for a fantastic combo platter before heading back north into town.
Now that you’re full up with pizza, head out for a drink or two in Boise’s spirited downtown nightlife district. Music venue Neurolux features some of the best live shows in town and a great selection of local craft beer with a strong cocktail selection. The dim, edgy interior is lit up with a bright, blinking crown backdrop facing out from the stage. Belly up to a game of pool or pinball in the adjoining lounge if you’re feeling nostalgic.
Further into downtown in Old Boise you’ll find Cactus Bar, a local favorite dive bearing classic neighborhood vibes. Cactus has reasonable well drink prices and a beckoning neon green awning make this spot a beacon for nightlife revelers.
After your night out, head back to the Modern and sleep it off in one of their comfy beds. Still looking for a nip? The Modern has you covered with a selection of local craft brews in their well-appointed mini-fridge plus an array of snacks.
Before you head out of town on Sunday morning, try another slice for good measure. Our favorite, and perhaps Boise’s as well judging by the lunchtime crowd, is the downtown institution Guido’s Original New York Style Pizzeria, a mouthful of a name and a pie. Queue up in the line for simple pizza standards like the modified Margherita or “basil pie.” Be advised that slices are the name of the game here with an operation running like a well-olive-oiled machine. Looking to order a full pie? Avoid the lunch rush and choose more off hours for a quicker bite. Head out of town full up on carbs and adventure and bid Boise a saucy farewell.