Walking up to Water Bear Bar in downtown Boise feels a bit like walking up to the front door of an old hotel, complete with gold-colored door frames and red-hued marble on the shiny retail level of the downtown building.
Behind the unassuming facade at 350 N. Ninth St., however, sits a quaint and comfortable cocktail bar.
The founders, Laura Keeler and Kylie North, started Water Bear after a seven-year stint as bartenders in Jackson, Wyoming. The two moved to Boise about two years ago, and were married two months ago.
"[In] this space, we thought, it would be so cool to bring a daytime-drinking place to Boise. A lot of bars are darker and kind of hidden away. We kind of wanted to bring some sunshine into [it]," North said.
Water Bear's cocktail menu remains unfinished, but it still has a list of cocktails ranging from $9 to $14, a non-alcoholic sipper and a short happy hour menu. Its kitchen stays open until the bar closes at 1 a.m. nightly except Sunday.
The menu is short but to the point. Notably it offers oysters at $3.50 apiece and popcorn in two varieties: sweet and savory. The savory popcorn is heavy on lime, but is a surprisingly welcome partner to the classic Old Fashioned. There's a meat-and-cheese plate on there, as well. Outside of its menu, it does set itself apart from many of the other town watering holes, but Keeler said she isn't concerned about comparisons with other local establishments.
A defining feature of Water Bear's aesthetic is natural light, which shines through high windows, and a frontier of houseplants, knick-knacks and taxidermied critters, including a bespectacled coyote, onto moss-colored curtains and curious-but-elegant floral wallpaper. A shuffleboard sits in a corner and a smoky back-of-the-bar mirror glarelessly creates the illusion of extra space. Lights hanging from the high ceiling and ferns and fern imagery seem to be everywhere—odes to the Pacific Northwest and what North dubbed "Mountain Tiki." The theme isn't necessarily Polynesian, but it is rooted in a tradition of unique or conceptually decorated restaurants and bars.
"We are tiki. Tiki is lifestyle," North said, adding that she and Keeler carefully considered how the space would accommodate their vision. To do that, they brought their notes to Pivot North Architects in Boise, whose design gave the space a cozy, sleek and warm feel.
"Every time you see a space, you need to model it and fully draw it out," Keeler said. "From the moment we first saw it, we knew this is what it would look like," North said.
Bars pepper downtown, but Keeler said when she worked at The Wylder, she noticed that there were plenty of bars that served $2 Pabsts and well whiskey past 10 p.m., but a different demographic thirsted for a balanced cocktail bar that stayed open late.
"There really does seem to be a void for people over 30 to go and drink with their friends past 10 o' clock," she said. "This is a great school town, and those bars are great for college," North said. "But as Boise grows it's like, 'oh man, I wish there was somewhere I could sit down and the seat is soft.'"
Keeler and North hosted a soft opening at the end of June, and opened officially on July 1. Business has been great so far, Keeler and North agreed. When they opened there was a line of 12 people waiting at the door. A group of people even closed them out, eating oysters until 1 a.m. on a Monday.
With business just getting started, the space isn't quiet before doors open to the public. There's constant movement and constant changes. Workers are coming in and out, installing furniture, affixing faux fern leaves to the windows and getting everything in line with North and Keeler's vision for the space. Amid the chaos there's a sort of raucous ingenuity, and in the middle of that are North and Keeler.