Words & Deeds

After bartending in a ski resort town, women open new ‘dream’ bar in Downtown Boise

Libations: Capitol Bar’s Kevin Hopper makes the classic cocktail Ramos Gin Fizz

Make this multi-ingredient cocktail at home using Kevin Hopper's step-by-step instructions.
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Make this multi-ingredient cocktail at home using Kevin Hopper's step-by-step instructions.

When Kylie North and Laura Keeler moved from Wyoming to Boise in 2017, they had a good idea of what they were getting into.

“We visited 10 times before we came here,” North explains.

They can say the same about their Downtown Boise business venture.

Although they’re first-time bar owners, the couple won’t be newbies when they open Water Bear Bar & Lounge today at 350 N. 9th St., at the corner of Jefferson Street.

North has more than 12 years of bartending experience in cities including Austin, Texas, and Denver. Keeler brings a barista and bartending background.

They met in Jackson Hole five years ago, where they tended bar at The Rose, a craft-cocktail lounge adjacent to the Pink Garter Theatre.

That experience prepared them for their Idaho venture, North says.

“We just really felt like it was bartender university,” she explains. “The Rose gave us confidence that we can — and that we have perspective. Why not do it for ourselves? Why not do it for Boise?”

And why not name the business after tardigrades or “water bears,” near-microscopic animals known for being virtually indestructible?

North and Keeler plan to make their Water Bear a survivor by offering a hospitality-oriented space that follows their vision. The inviting “mountain tiki” interior, which features a legal capacity of 72, is bathed in relaxing green colors. The room formerly was a furniture store.

“We just keep saying, like, if bartenders get to build their dream bar — and this is it,” North says.

Daily happy hour, which runs from 4 to 5:30 p.m., will be anchored by a $12 “Old Fashioned of the Day.” It will include spirits up to a $16 value, or potentially even more, North says. “We’re trying to increase what the value of happy hour can mean.”

Water Bear will host Vinyl Night on Wednesdays. A house DJ will carry the set from 5 to 6 p.m. But from 6 to 10 p.m., customers are welcome to bring in their own prized records and sign up for a slot.

“If you play 30 minutes of music, we’ll give you a drink coin, and it’s good for any drink under $14,” North says.

Craft cocktails will be a focus at Water Bear, but the bar also will have bottles of beer and wine, plus 10 taps.

“We’ve got a couple of wines on draft. We’re opening with Meriwether Cider. And then definitely taking the cocktails seriously,” North says. “We’ve got a couple bottles of sake. We’ve got French press coffee service. And beautiful tea service if you just want to come in and spend time in this awesomely green room.”

Water Bear will offer a modest selection of food, North says, including oysters, charcuterie, shrimp cocktail, salad, and rotating sweet-and-savory popcorn.

“Nothing is like meal-size here,” she explains. “It’s just kind of to help you along. We like to be the first place you go to maybe before your meal. Or come and see us for a mudslide and one of our house dessert cocktails after dinner.”

“Radical accessibility is our mantra,” she says. “That’s where the water bear comes in. He can thrive in just about any situation. Let’s just do a few things really well. Let’s just try to say ‘yes,’ and part of that in hospitality means just having a little bit of food with your alcohol. And, ‘Yes, we want you to stay. This seat is comfortable. It’s soft and cushiony.’ We’ve worked on the acoustics in the room. It’s like the bar/solarium/library/lounge that everybody wants in their home but none of us can actually afford.”

Water Bear, which held soft opening events last week, is still not entirely done, she adds. A few of the interior finishes will happen in the near future.

But the bar is stocked. And its owners are stoked to make drinks for Boiseans.

“We’re pretty excited,” North admits. “We’re making the place for us, and we like it all.”

Hours: 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays. Online: facebook.com/waterbearbar.

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