Shooting the breeze during a Hulls Gulch mountain bike jaunt, Michael Slavin and Luke Keavney hatched an idea for a newly vacant lot along the Boise Greenbelt.
That was in May.
By midsummer, they hope to unveil 34th Street Market, a still-developing, family-friendly attraction that's part of a grand vision for the property.
That's how fast you can park an industrial shipping container along the river, start rounding up food trucks and create a buzz.
It's also how quickly Garden City's riverfront between 33rd and 36th streets is evolving into Boise's coolest new outdoor entertainment district.
If you haven't pedaled through that area recently, prepare to do a double take. Pop out of the Greenbelt tunnel under the Main Street bridge, and a restaurant-and-bar oasis beckons. Customers fill outdoor seats at Joe's Crab Shack, a popular patio since 2003 (and for 27 years before that, The Chart House), and Sandbar Patio Bar & Grill, which doubled in size last year at The Riverside Hotel.
Those waterside destinations have been joined by Telaya Wine Co., which opened in 2016, and Caffe Luciano's, which debuted last December. The Yardarm outdoor bar, which opened two summers ago, operates about a block off the river on 35th Street. And a stone's skip from 34th Street Market's planned site, Push & Pour coffee shop serves java, beer and wine to patrons lounging on a patio. It opened seven months ago.
"There's just this entire new destination that the valley is enjoying and discovering," Slavin says. "We just want to be a part of it."
On a Wednesday afternoon, the Sandbar buzzes with laughter and music. Servers tote summer drinks to packed tables. The smoky smell of barbecue drifts toward the serene Boise River.
Where are these people coming from? They can't all be hotel pool guests. It's 5 p.m. Don't they have jobs?
"We've kind of scratched our heads, too," Riverside Hotel co-owner Lynda Johnson admits with a chuckle. "It's really such a good thing, right? But it's such a surprise."
Idaho's first shipping-container bar, The Yardarm, is rockin' the weekday away, too — even with access from The Greenbelt temporarily blocked by construction. Customers in the beer garden sip craft brews at wooden tables while Gem Street Kitchen, the permanent food truck tenant, cranks out street tacos.
Yardarm co-owner Guy Midnight has surfed at the nearby Boise Whitewater Park for years. He got the idea for the seasonal bar after seeing Idahoans pass by on the Greenbelt during summer.
"I was like, 'Man, some of them want tacos and beer, I'm sure. Even if I get a quarter of them, I'll be good to go.' "
Fast forward to a typical spring day in 2018. People wait at the gate for The Yardarm to open. "Mondays and Tuesdays, I'm full — at 2 o'clock in the afternoon," Midnight says incredulously.
"It's crazy. On Fridays and Saturdays, I have to stop people from coming in. Never in a million years would I have thought that was ever going to happen."
Slavin and Keavney have encountered similar interest working at the 34th Street lot in the past few weeks. "To the point it's hard to get work done," Slavin jokes. The two friends grew up as ranch kids and river guides in Salmon, so they've been doing their own construction modifying a shipping container plopped next to the Greenbelt. They hope to open it as a beer and wine bar eventually. "First and foremost, it's for storage," Slavin says.
Until a few months ago, the lot was filled with mobile homes. Those got razed by the new property owner, Urban Land Development. Assuming that permits and red tape are cleared this summer, the 34th Street Market idea is to host food trucks, along with outdoor games and possibly live music. The plan is to offer food trucks daily this summer, based on demand, and launch a Wednesday farmers market in July, Slavin says. "We've already been reaching out to a pretty good amount of vendors and getting interest for sure," he says. "Everybody gets excited about the location." Other propositions include morning fitness classes and maybe even outdoor movies.
"You have just under an acre site," Slavin says. "You can wander around on it and enjoy a beer ... hang out with friends and listen to music, play cornhole. We've had requests for bocce ball. We have plans for all kinds of stuff this summer. It's outdoors, there's views of the river. We just want to make a fun environment for people."
It all would be temporary, too. The 34th Street Market is a one-summer concept, Slavin says — maybe two. Urban Land Development has bigger plans. Slavin, a managing partner at real-estate-focused private equity firm Napias Group, says the ultimate goal is a vibrant, mixed-use area. "Kind of a mix between Pike Place Market and Eataly," he says.
The 34th Street Market would be a fun stepping stone, he says — a catalyst to help accelerate future development and draw attention to Garden City. "There's a method to the madness," Slavin says.
He bought his home in the Waterfront District in 2011. "People used to tease me that it was Garbage City," Slavin says. Now Garden City's so-called East End is becoming Boise's bikable, walkable, commercial corridor along the river.
"You know what it reminds me of is Venice, California," Slavin says. "I feel it's the Venice of Boise. This is the classic story of it's on the water. Industrial use. It's very rundown, then artists move in because it's actually affordable. Then people think it's cool!"
Upstream at The Riverside Hotel's Sandbar, things have been cool for a while. What started in 2012 as a musician on a stool in the corner has grown into a significant outdoor-music venue. Local musicians perform on a stage seven days a week. The Sandbar opened with 98 seats. Last year, it expanded to 2,800 square feet with 181 seats.
It could still use more seating, Johnson says. "We are looking for other ways to expand it again."
Johnson thinks there's potential for other entertainment to develop and succeed in Garden City's riverfront area, too.
"Boiseans love to get outside," she says. "It's just a very nice, summery Idaho atmosphere back there.
"I probably shouldn't say this as a business owner, but I think there's room for more. With the brewing community and the arts community and the people who like to be outside, it's really blossoming back there."
A 34th Street Market would be the latest proof for the area, which is made even cooler by breezes from the Boise River.
"It's only the tip of the iceberg," Slavin predicts enthusiastically. "It's going to be nuts, man. I'm telling you. Think about how hot it gets here this summer. If people want to go out and get a bite to eat and socialize and check out interesting things, it's going to be the place to be."
Editor's note: A time reference in the original article has been updated to reflect that 34th Street Market's planned opening date is being delayed until midsummer. The market still needs to work out site details with Garden City's code enforcers, co-owner Michael Slavin says.