Words & Deeds

Bottoms up, Boise! China Blue tops annual liquor report

Can you read this? Do these words look blurry to you?

Cheers, Idaho! You're plowing through more hard liquor than ever.

The Idaho State Liquor Dispensary recently compiled data for fiscal year 2006, which ended June 30. The state-controlled agency sold 10.1 percent more bottles of liquor to bars than it did the prior fiscal year — 2,071,137 compared with 1,881,876.

Before we get drunk on numbers, I should probably explain that the liquor dispensary's annual report is to bars what the Arbitron ratings are to radio stations. At least it seemed that way when I had that epiphany over a Bloody Mary.

Every ounce of the hard stuff is purchased from the state. So, by monitoring how much liquor is bought by bars, we can loosely deduce how much hooch these fine establishments are selling. (We're talking liquor, not beer or wine, which aren't handled by the dispensary.)

Downtown Boise dance club China Blue — along with its downstairs bar, Dirty Little Roddy's — is the No. 1 Treasure Valley liquor sponge, according to the report. China Blue/Dirty Little Roddy's purchased 17,583 bottles costing $258,721.28 from the state liquor dispensary. That's a lot of cash for the state.

"The flip side of it is, (bars) buy a $10 bottle of whiskey and meter it out one shot at a time," says Glenn Harbig, financial manager for the Idaho State Liquor Dispensary. "And we all know how many shots are in a bottle of whiskey."

Actually, I don't. But it sounds like a killer bar bet.

Always-consistent Hannah's was the No. 2 spender. Main Street Bistro was No. 3. Neurolux, that hipster bar on the edge of Downtown, was fourth. (Either we're all hipsters, or Neurolux has gone mainstream.)

Bars that don't appear are as notable as those that do: The Cactus and Bouquet didn't crack the top 40. Maybe they're selling lots of beer instead?

Surprise! The 127 Club in Meridian vaulted into the Top 10, and Kuna's Cowgirls Saloon rode in at No. 11. That tells me two things: a) population growth in west Ada County is paying off big time for bar owners; b) country-themed nightspots are a hit with Treasure Valley drinkers.

More intriguing, could west Ada County be the next hot spot for bar growth? Cowgirls, which opened in Kuna in January 2005, owns a second liquor license in Meridian.

"If we find the right location, we're going 20,000 square feet with five acres of parking," manager Verne Fisher declares. The 127 Club also would like to expand, "maybe down the road," co-owner Traci Hoots says.

The nation is drinking more liquor, and energy drinks are helping drive sales. Mind-melting shots such as chili bombs — Red Bull and Crown Royal — are pouring down gullets.

"We go through 23 fifths of Crown a week," Hoots says. "Anything with Red Bull is real high volume for us."

Scariest of all, bar liquor bottle purchases in Idaho went up less than good ol' liquor stores, which jumped 13.4 percent.

"Our sales to the average guy off the street are up greater than bar sales — draw your own conclusion there," Harbig says with a chuckle. "I don't know."

An overall increase in liquor consumption can be attributed to Idaho's population growth, among other factors. But sales jumping more at the retail level than at the neighborhood pub is ... a mystery.

All I know is that these numbers are giving me a hangover. And after you've recited this column backwards, you'll probably be OK to drive.