Words & Deeds

These 10 Boise bars are smashing through liquor. One just set a record. Again.

If you stare at the ominous Medusa sculpture inside Barbacoa Grill long enough, you won’t turn to stone.

But apparently, you might turn into a party animal.

Continuing a multiyear trend, Barbacoa, 276 W. Bobwhite Court, slayed all Boise competitors in the Idaho State Liquor Division’s annual bar sales report.

Barbacoa purchased 19,695 bottles of liquor costing $406,995 during fiscal year 2019, which ended June 30. (This is the hard stuff only, not beer and wine, which aren’t part of the report.) Both numbers are Treasure Valley records.

Is it Barbacoa’s buy-one, get-one happy hour making booze flow so freely? Hey, it sure can’t hurt.

Either way, dollar sales to bars and restaurants swelled 8.1 percent statewide, according to Tony Faraca, CFO of the Idaho State Liquor Division. That’s up from 6.1 percent growth the prior year. Bottle sales rose 4.7 percent in fiscal 2019, compared to 4.2 percent the prior year.

Not only is more liquor being crushed, but prices are trending up naturally. And Idahoans are ordering fancier booze.

“You’re definitely seeing customers not drinking the well stuff as much anymore,” says Kevin Settles, owner of Bardenay restaurant and distillery in Downtown Boise, which purchased 18,656 bottles.

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Total dollar sales to Boise bars and restaurants topped the statewide number slightly, expanding 8.9 percent in fiscal year 2019. That’s up from modest 2 percent growth in 2018.

“It’s going well in Boise,” explains Settles, who also owns Bardenay locations in Eagle and Coeur d’Alene. “We look at total dollar sales regularly. We’re seeing 6, 7 percent growth. And it’s not just price increases. We’re seeing nice increases in plates sold. Our head count’s gone up.”

Until the latest bar sales report emerged, Faraca had never seen a stronger year than 2018 in his decade-plus with the Liquor Division. “This is a better year,” he says. “In case you didn’t know it, people are moving to Idaho.”

“People are definitely going out more than they have in a long time,” Faraca adds.

Here are the top 10 bars in the Treasure Valley ranked by number of bottles of liquor purchased:

1. Barbacoa, 19,695; 2. Bardenay (Boise location), 18,656; 3. Bittercreek Alehouse/Red Feather Lounge/Diablo & Sons, 15,869; 4. Silly Birch/Whiskey Bar, 14,484; 5. Mulligan’s/Olympic, 13,296; 6. Hannah’s, 12,494; 7. Reef/The Brickyard/The Front Door, 12,186; 8. Cactus Bar, 11,911; 9. Fatty’s, 10,476; 10. Casa Del Matador (in Meridian), 10,339.

Notice how multiple bars are listed in some cases? That’s because they’re operating under a single liquor license from a holder who owns or leases all the adjacent retail spaces.

Here are the top 10 bars in the Treasure Valley ranked by dollars they spent at state liquor stores:

1. Barbacoa, $406,995; 2. Bittercreek Alehouse/Red Feather Lounge/Diablo & Sons, $371,619; 3. Silly Birch/Whiskey Bar, $319,002; 4. Amsterdam Lounge, $246,264; 5. Reef/The Brickyard/The Front Door, $232,769; 6. The Matador (Boise), $228,911; 7. Chandlers Steakhouse, $213,560; 8. Casa Del Matador (Meridian), $206,107; 9. Hannah’s, $202,466; 10. Bardenay (Boise), $194,295.

Ready to do math on a cocktail napkin? Use this simple formula to win a bar bet. If you divide dollars spent by number of bottles, you can deduce which bars are blowing through classy liquor, as opposed to which are specializing in bottom-shelf hangover juice.

Chandlers spent an average of $26.70 per bottle. (Ten Minute Martini, anyone?) Another bar serving lots of higher-end booze is Amsterdam Lounge, which averaged $25.29.

The divey Cactus, on the other hand, forked over a mere $11.60 per bottle. (Rotgut time!)

An exception to this liquor-quality analysis is Bardenay, which spent an average of only $10.41 per bottle. Distilling its own liquor means Bardenay pays lower-than-normal prices for house spirits, pulling down its average.

Sharp-eyed drinkers will notice a significant player missing from the annual bar sales report: China Blue in Downtown Boise. A collapsing roof forced the dance club to close for repairs in September 2018.

The former China Blue is slated to reopen as Strangelove on Aug. 3.

If you really want to party? Head north. Despite jaw-dropping liquor expenditures by Barbacoa and other Boise favorites, Idaho’s true booze beasts are in Sun Valley and Coeur d’Alene.

The Couer d’Alene Resort and Conference Center smashed a state-high 25,670 bottles for a whopping $444,346.

Meanwhile, high-rolling Sun Valley Resort nabbed 17,199 bottles and paid $476,454. That’s an average of $27.70 per bottle, even higher than Chandlers in Boise.

In other words, better not order a cheap shot of tequila — unless you want to be treated like a worm.

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Michael Deeds is an entertainment reporter and columnist at the Idaho Statesman, where he also has been a sportswriter, entertainment editor and features editor. Deeds co-hosts “The Other Studio,” a one-hour music show, at 8 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.