A better Boisean--the one we're all trying to be, constantly aware of those who were here "when it was great"--is one who savors the local side of things. Whether it's home-grown events and productions--the everloving Idaho Shakespeare Festival comes to mind--or the local watering holes, the Boisean hunting for his or her roots needs to keep an ear to the ground.
This especially includes the New Boiseans. The New Boiseans don't have a quick answer to "Where you from?" After 15 minutes of evasive blather, we stand out in a crowd of native Spudheads. To the NB's, I say, courage. I say, strength. I say, when in doubt, plaster a few Boise State stickers on your car, just to be safe. Last but not least, I say, get to know your town so when you poke your head into Bar Gernika you won't get stared at too much. Yep, from Gernika on down, Boise is a burg full of favored haunts.
So I was pumped up when I heard about the revival of the Hilltop Cafe, off Highway 21 by Lucky Peak Dam.
The old place has been shuttered for years, when the family that owned it gave up the ghost and tried, unsuccessfully, to lease it. It sat dormant for over two years, attracting wandering bicyclists and road-trippers who needed refreshment. All were turned away by the shuttered doors. Finally Donn Clor of Boise, a longtime fan of the place, took the plunge. An aficionado of local cafes and meeting spots, Clor hated the thought of losing the Hilltop.
"All these places are disappearing," said Clor. "I want to keep it what it was. It's nostalgic."
The Hilltop is a perfect gathering spot, the jump-off or landing point for adventures. It's a perfect location for summertime in Boise; whether you arrive on two wheels or four, it's situated barely 15 miles outside of town, with a commanding view of the valley behind and the mountains beyond.
Clor noticed this too; even in the winter, he said, people were pulling in to the deserted parking lot for a look around.
"I was just real impressed with the potential of it," Clor said.
While he waits for permits from Ada County, he found a family to take over the operation of the restaurant inside, and has a new name for it: The Hilltop Smokehouse Cafe. The reasonable menu they're planning sounds tasty: homemade sourdough pancakes and smoked bacon for breakfast, just for starters. He also plans to expand the store, to rescue absent-minded fishermen or travelers who need last-minute supplies.
"If it was up to me, the place would have been open three weeks ago," Clor said. Instead he is aiming for July, when permits and contractors should converge to revive the Hilltop. New roofs, refurbished interior, and a new front are all a part of the plan, Clor said, but he intends to keep it simple. No formica-ish signboards for the ole Hilltop. Clor speaks of big timbered porch details, a metal roof and awning, the works.
"I'm keeping the rustic look," Clor said. "I feel optimistic about it."
While we root for Clor to bring back the Hilltop, Boiseans jonesing for other verifications of their local-yokel street cred should keep a few handy resources available.
Start by pointing your walkin' shoes Downtown. This is where it started, and thankfully, this is where it is now happening more than ever (at a recent Downtown Boise Association meeting, longtime biz owners talked about how, in dry decades gone by, they were able to chip golf balls across the streets without fear of hitting anyone).
No more. It's hard to mail a bill at the old Bannock Street Post Office without getting run over by a hipster on a cruiser bike.
Start with this year's 20th annual Alive After Five Summer Concert Series. Starting June 7, you'll be able to catch live music in the Grove Plaza every Wednesday. Yeah, it's free, and it runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Later in the week, keep your Saturday open of mind and schedule, so you can peruse the goods at the Capital City Public Market from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Local grub, local grubbers and regional art abound, from now until October. Yes we, too, wish Boise had a "true" farmer's market, to better get our mitts on some real produce, but there's more than one way to skin a grape. Think about the open-air produce market that is once again underway on Broadway Ave., near the Federal Way interchange if you need more roughage.
You'll need the sustenance, pilgrim, because you owe it to your local soul to take a walk through some local landmarks. Start at the Idaho State Capitol, open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Why bother with a fusty old state building? Consider this: One, summertime equals heat, and the Capitol is filled with so much marble that it's cooler than the other side of the pillow in there. Plus, the rotunda is filled with natural light. Then remember that in summertime, you won't have to dodge the legislators and lobbyists that congregate there in the winter. And with the building about to undergo major renovations, it's going to get harder and harder to take a casual stroll through the people's house.
Lastly, summertime in Boise this year is going to be predictably political, and I submit that there's no better way to get local than by joining a campaign event or two. Whether it's by volunteering for a campaign or helping out at the polls,
Idaho's primary is May 23, so you're short on time to be a part of that, but there's a chance. Beyond that, Idaho is going full-bore this summer with campaigns toward the November election, and you can take your pick: Republicans (www.idgop.org), Democrats (www.idaho-democrats.org) or even the United Party (www.unitedparty.net) will have plenty of ways to get political.