By the time I’d finished with my Friday afternoon class, I was running late, and ended up springing for a $40 rush-hour taxi to LaGuardia, only to learn that my flight had been delayed, my connection missed, and the next available itinerary didn’t depart until 8am the following morning. The next day, after an ill-considered egg-and-chorizo wrap at the Denver airport, I got nauseous on the plane, which never happens to me, almost threw up during the final descent, and arrived on the runway in Boise drenched in sweat and dizzy in a way that didn’t let up for twelve hours. I had arrived on the last of a string of warm spring days and my stay encompassed all of the ensuing cold & rainy spell. Boise, Idaho met me at a bad disadvantage, but it won me over anyway—I’d go back in a hot minute, but I’ll take a damn car next time, thank you very much.
If you’re a born and bred New Yorker, like myself, whose conception of certain parts of the rest of America actually resembles that old New Yorker cover with the view out over the Hudson from 9th Avenue, in which everything west of the Passaic is squashed together into a featureless orange rectangle—then the word “Idaho” might conjure nothing but endless gray fields of spuds. In fact, the potato farms are all in the eastern part of the state. The area around Boise is a sea of rolling hills. Bare except for a stubble of short grass and scrub, the hills have an eerie, primordial beauty, as if they’re left over from one of the early days of creation—day 3 maybe, late afternoon, after he’d separated the land from the sea, but before he’d covered it with plants and beasts of the field.
About an hour north of Boise by car, the bare hills give way to craggy mountains and sheer river canyons, their sawed-off slopes lined with giant fir trees, their hearts riddled with sulfur springs. A naked insurance claims adjustor in a hot-spring up a muddy slope from the highway, under a cold rain, when wisps of cloud floated through tree-tops and the upper cliffs vanished into white void, told me that Idaho has ten times more hot springs than the other north-western states combined. Sure, I could fact-check that, but I kind of prefer to take his word for it. (What does it say about the future of a society when all the people skinny-dipping at the hot springs are over 25 and the ones in bathing suits are mostly teenagers? Nothing good, I fear.)
Cliff-top hot-springs definitely take the edge off the city jitters, but there’s nothing like a good place to stay to sweeten a weekend getaway. In that capacity, the Boise Guest House will not disappoint. Owner Eve-Marie Bergren has turned this 1895 Victorian town-house into an independent hotel, in which each of the six, elegantly decorated guest suites is equipped with a full kitchen and dining area and furnished with all manner of cookware and even a few basic pantry staples. It’s a good place for a long stay, and Ms. Bergren offers discount rates for visits in excess of five days.
The Boise Guest House is a hotel, not a bed and breakfast—Ms. Bergren lives off-site, there are no complimentary meals, and the atmosphere is more private than communal—but its furnishings split the difference. It’s got the single-serving soaps and shampoos of the hotel industry but the irregular, homey furnishings of the private inn. The bathrooms feel like bathrooms in real houses; the floors are made of wood; the pillowcases and blankets in some rooms are hand-embroidered by a friend of Ms. Bergren’s. Work by local Boise artists adorns the walls, and Ms. Bergren’s own series of encaustic paintings on magnetized tile—she had an earlier career as a professional artist—form abstract, modular mosaics in the corridors between suites. The local art is a new addition to the guesthouse, and Ms. Bergren has plans to add a lot more of it in the near future, commissioning works and even whole room-themes from Boise artists; she sees herself as the curator, the guesthouse her gallery. “If you’re an independent hotel,” she says, “you might as well go all the way in that direction—you can’t compete with a Hilton at being a Hilton.”
Too true, but who wants to stay in a Hilton, anyway? The suites are larger at Boise Guest House, the furnishings prettier, and the accommodations equally comfortable. Plus, the Boise Guest House has bike rentals. The guesthouse is located in between the restaurant-laden downtown hub and the beautiful North End residential neighborhood, and it’s only a ten-minute walk from the former, so you can easily get by without wheels—but there’s nothing like a bike for exploring a city. The Boise Guest House’s two fire-engine-red cruisers are equipped with baskets and rent for $10 per day.
Once you’re on wheels, there’s plenty to see in Boise. (According to locals, it’s actually pronounced “boy-see”—who knew!) (Editor’s note: New York regional accents do no favors for pronunciation. Give Max a break!) To the south and east, the city sprawls out into the strip-malls and modern developments of contiguous municipalities, like Kuna and Meridian, but Boise proper is mostly older buildings and tree-lined streets. The downtown is bristling with restaurants, the fanciest of them about as expensive as a Manhattan diner, and the residential neighborhoods to the north are varied and beautiful—I recommend twilight perambulations through the North End and hikes up onto quail ridge, whence you can look down on the city and see why, despite the barren hills, it’s called Boise: at a 30° from above, it looks more like a forest than a state capital.
Boise’s got a couple universities and some hip coffee shops. There’s a large Basque population and a whole block of Basque-style restaurants. Have a happy-hour fish taco at Matador or locally grown meat and neon-colored cocktails at Bardenay, where several of the liquors are made right there in the giant, polished still that sits behind a glass wall in the dining area, like something out of a steam-punk reimagining of Mickey in the Night Kitchen. End your night at The Balcony, a couple blocks away. It’s the local gay club, but everyone comes there to dance on the weekend: frat boys and fag-hags and middle-aged couples, all undulating together, beneath the disco lights and the smoke machine.
My favorite spot in Boise isn’t downtown, though; it’s a greasy, free-standing diner out along the strip-malls near the airport called “Rockies Diner” with a checkerboard floor, a life-size plastic Harley & rider doing a wheelie in the middle of the room, and waitresses in mini-skirts and roller-skates, where you can get eggs, sausage links, hash-browns, and biscuits & gravy (a meal which, if you don’t mind the 90-minute wait, is available at all the hippest restaurants in downtown Manhattan, for about $13.50) for six bucks—and you should see those girls delivering drinks on wheels! They seem to be having a ball doing it, too; as my companion put it, “Anyone who works at a place like this knows that roller-skating is fun as hell.” She’s got a point—it probably beats the hell out of hunching over a laptop all day, but I guess I’m not complaining. It takes all kinds, doesn’t it: roller-skaters and laptop-hunchbacks and nude insurance claims adjustors, too.
Story: Max Bean
Photos: Paris Mancini
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