Words & Deeds

Which Boise bars plow through the most booze? Hint: No. 1 is not Downtown

Barbacoa has become a destination spot for Boiseans — and its liquor sales reflect that popularity.
Barbacoa has become a destination spot for Boiseans — and its liquor sales reflect that popularity. Statesman file

When it comes to bars, location is key. If a lounge is in Downtown Boise, it often blows through liquor like crazy.

But the Boise bar that went through the most booze last year — by far — wasn’t Downtown.

It was Barbacoa Grill. Barbacoa spent $387,980 on liquor, according to the Idaho State Liquor Division’s bar sales report for fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. That’s more than any other bar or restaurant in the state. Barbacoa also bought more total bottles — 17,839 — than anyone in Boise. (We’re talking exclusively about the hard stuff here. Beer and wine are not handled by the State Liquor Division.)

Barbacoa was the only Treasure Valley bar in the top 10 that isn’t Downtown. The huge, multi-dimensional restaurant and bar is a couple of miles southeast of Downtown — off ParkCenter Boulevard at 276 W. Bobwhite Court.

Barbacoa spent nearly $40,000 more on liquor than it did in 2016, and over $100,000 more than the Treasure Valley’s second-biggest liquor purchaser, China Blue and its downstairs cousin, Dirty Little Roddy’s. Barbacoa bought over 2,000 more bottles than it purchased the prior fiscal year. Two North Idaho bars purchased more bottles but spent less than Barbacoa; The Coeur d’Alene Resort and Conference Center and Circling Raven Golf Course in Worley.

Tony Faraca, CFO of the Idaho State Liquor Division, celebrated his birthday at Barbacoa last week.

“It was packed,” Faraca says. “You wouldn’t expect it on a Tuesday night, but it was packed to the gills.”

Barbacoa’s cast-a-wide-net formula — restaurant, bar, patios and atmosphere — appears to be working exceedingly well. This is a destination spot with the slogan “we stimulate your senses and elevate your mind.”

“Boise doesn’t want one thing,” Barbacoa manager Kris Westergard says. “They can come to a place that has everything.”

“I think Boise, in general, is thriving as well,” he adds.

Numbers support that. Idaho spent more on liquor in 2017 than ever before, and the service industry helped drive the upward trend. The Idaho State Liquor Division’s sales to bars and restaurants increased 5.3 percent. In Boise, that number was 7.5 percent.

China Blue
Despite being open only three nights a week, China Blue has been one of the largest alcohol purchasers in Idaho for more than a decade. Darin Oswald Statesman file

If you compare dollar sales to bottles sold, you can see which bars plow through high-end liquors, and which ones splash a lot of well swill. Barbacoa spent an average of almost $22 per bottle. The Cactus Bar in Downtown Boise plunked down just over $11 a bottle. (That ain’t Don Julio tequila, bro!) An exception to the cost versus bottles comparison is Bardenay, which distills much of its own liquor. Bardenay winds up paying lower-than-normal prices for house spirits.

As the bar-sales report illustrates, you don’t have to be located at Sixth and Main streets in Boise to be busy. Look at Fatty’s Bar, 800 W. Idaho St., a major winner in a second-story space that has struggled in previous incarnations. And check out the consistent, sustained success of Bittercreek Alehouse and Red Feather Lounge across 8th Street.

Still, it helps to be at ground zero. Because sometimes, Boise bargoers just don’t like to walk. (Or, should we say, stumble at 1:30 a.m.)

Until 2014, The Silly Birch, 507 W. Main St., felt like it was on an “island,” owner Jason Kovac remembers. It was nearly half a block away from the nearest bar, Pengilly’s Saloon. When Kovac opened his craft-cocktail Whiskey Bar at 509 W. Main St., he essentially bridged that gap.

Whiskey Bar enjoyed a long honeymoon period of exceptional business. But eventually, the college-bar segment of the crowd migrated next door to The Birch. Whiskey Bar is still a happening spot, but The Silly Birch now outsells it by a ratio of 2:1, Kovac says. Combined, the two bars are the No. 3 liquor buy in the Treasure Valley.

“The biggest reason The Birch caught on so much is because we built Whiskey Bar,” Kovac says. “The Birch is the one that actually ended up benefiting the most.”

Interesting. Anybody wanna open a bar on the east side of The Silly Birch?

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