150 Boise icons: Brunswick bars

June 5, 2013 

0605 local icon woodbar

Did you know? Bars made by the Brunswick company became so popular just before the turn of the 20th century that the company opened a new factory in Iowa in the 1880s and began exporting wooden bars around the world. This one is at Pengilly’s.

DARIN OSWALD — doswald@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Before urban renewal swept through Downtown Boise in the 1960s and '70s, the stretch of Main Street from Capitol to 9th was home to more than a few taverns.

That stretch of streetscape was pretty lively. Besides the bars, there were movie theaters, pawn shops and loan sharks, said historian Tully Gerlach.

The vitality of Boise's Downtown modern street life, in evidence when you stroll 8th Street on a summer night or try to get a table at the newest brewpub, has more in common with the Boise of 100 years ago than it does with the Boise of 40 years ago, said Gerlach.

Old-style wooden back bars made by the celebrated Brunswick company - originally a maker of carriages and billiards tables founded in Ohio in 1845 - anchored some of the old Boise taverns. Owners would order the bars out of catalogs, and companies like Brunswick would ship them west in pieces for owners to assemble.

A few of the back bars are still around. The Brunswick at Pengilly's is a century old. It has company - an ancient National brand cash register.

The Bouquet has been in three different locations in Downtown Boise, said current owner Nathan Gorringe. The circa-1902 Brunswick bar has moved along with it, he said. These days, at its Main Street home, the Brunswick sits under a distinctive 1930s-era ceiling. The bar has a built-in humidor. In this smoke-free age, the humidor holds vodka bottles, not cigars.

One of the most spectacular Brunswick bars in Boise is now at the Idaho State Historical Museum. Its owner was Madison C. Smith, described in the 1902-03 Boise City Directory as a "capitalist" with rooms at Main and 7th.

Smith's Brunswick bar dates to about 1880. Like the Brunswick at the Bouquet, Smith's bar moved around town. Drinkers enjoyed it at various Downtown locations for more than 70 years, according to the museum.

Today, it's home to the museum's stuffed two-headed calf, also a Boise icon.

Know of other classic Brunswick bars still around town? Let us know at awebb@idahostatesman.com.

Boise 150 lecture: "Counterculture: Underground in the City of Trees," 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, The Blues Bouquet, 1010 Main St. Historian Tully Gerlach will talk about the role of various bars, from the Emerald Club to Neurolux, and how these gathering places promoted Boise culture outside the mainstream. Free.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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