When I reported in 2016 that Pollo Rey planned to say hasta la vista early this year, response was predictably lugubrious. Inexplicably, we often get attached to Downtown Boise restaurants that serve speedy, affordable meals. Especially after 20-plus years of rotisserie chicken.
Cheer up. News of Pollo Rey’s demise has been greatly exaggerated. Plus, the space recently started moonlighting as an all-ages concert venue.
To be clear, these developments are short-term. But Pollo Rey fans now have until mid-summer to savor one last fatty burrito, a Mexican lager — and live music.
Located at the corner of 8th and Idaho streets, Pollo Rey is still an el-cheapo-burrito joint. (And, yes, beer is served there again.) But it’s now also the temporary, pop-up home of B-AMP (Boise All-ages Movement Project). B-AMP is a nonprofit dedicated to creating an all-ages community space for music and arts.
Pollo Rey really will close Aug. 7. The inevitable has simply been delayed. By the end of the year, Pollo Rey should be remodeled into a new, entirely different restaurant and bar. B-AMP will not be part of that.
Until then, Pollo Rey’s tables and chairs will be shoved aside during evenings about twice a week. The brightly colored room will fill with teens, young adults and not-so-grown-ups. Local and touring bands will crank through speakers big enough to blow Cholula bottles off the counters.
“There’s some great shows,” says Eric Gilbert, chairman of the board at B-AMP. “I’m hoping that the scene embraces it.”
Gilbert is the co-founder of Treefort Music Fest. You’ve probably heard of it. Still, don’t feel obligated to take his word that Pollo Rey is a cool, intimate new music venue. Out-of-state music media repeatedly mentioned Pollo Rey after the room debuted as a venue at Treefort in late March.
“Without fail, every national coverage of Treefort I saw mentioned Pollo Rey as a strange venue that was fun to see music,” says David Roberts, brand manager for Bittercreek Alehouse, Red Feather Lounge and Pollo Rey. “And more than one said that their favorite show was in Pollo Rey, but they were all different bands.”
With many Boiseans assuming Pollo Rey has closed, Roberts wants to spread the word about its live-music stay of execution. “We’re still making improvements to the way that we’re communicating the concept,” he says. “It’s a little bit tricky, right? There’s this nonprofit that is trying to create a vibrant scene for young adults, and it temporarily lives in a burrito store that’s only temporarily open.”
For B-AMP, Pollo Rey is a way to nurture the all-ages music scene while searching for a permanent space. The B-AMP vision isn’t just to provide a suitable concert venue for young people in that 13- to 24-year-old range — focused on 17 to 20. Or a room for them to perform. B-AMP’s goal is to involve youth at every level — from helping book the acts to taking money at the door and running sound.
The sort of thing happening at Pollo Rey.
“I believe strongly that the music scene needs a complete ecosystem,” Gilbert says. “This is a key ingredient to that puzzle for a healthy music scene.”
Pollo Rey isn’t the long-term answer. But it’s a sweet spot on a high-profile corner. Boiseans passing by notice the concerts through all the windows. “They just kind of peek their head in,” Gilbert says. “It’s just been fun being down there.”
Last month, Portland band Y La Bamba declared Pollo Rey their favorite show of the tour.
“It might have been the burritos,” Gilbert says, laughing.
▪ Online: Facebook.com/Boiseallagesproject.
Pollo Rey concerts
Banny Grove, Kathleen Williams, Magic Hero, Ana Lete — 7:30 p.m. May 13, $5
Thick Business, Good Dining, Fyberz — 7:30 p.m. May 20, $7
Zack Quintana and the Tucks, Critical Hits — 7:30 p.m. May 25, $5
RVIVR, Brat Tail, The Vang Basics, Tag Along Friend — 7:30 p.m. May 30, $5 advance (Brown Paper Tickets)/$7 door
Get Wet+, Love-Lace, guests — 7:30 p.m. June 8, $5
Imaginary Tricks, local guests — 7:30 p.m. June 17, $7