If you find yourself walking northbound right past the intersection of Capitol Street and Front Street downtown, if you look to your right, you’ll see a massive mural painted onto the side of a red building. The mural consists of Oinkari Basque Dancers dressed in old-timey garb singing and dancing, a flock of sheep running in from the East, a strongman lifting a heavy stone, a small portion of the painting “Guernica” by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, and other great elements that symbolize important elements from the Basque homeland - all set in front of the Boise foothills that we stare at every day and night.
This is what Boise looked like many years ago.
The Boise Basque Block
Just after the turn of the of the 20th century, Boise soon found itself being home to more and more Basques. According to the book Moon Idaho by James P. Kelly, Basques set up a home-base in Boise in large part due to sheep herding: “It was a job that they could get without needing to speak English and that few others were willing to take because of its solitary nature.”
Boise eventually ended up with the largest Basque population in the entire country. As well as the third largest Basque population of any city in the world.
As the years progressed, most of the Basque influence held in Boise was assimilated by American culture. But one specific block located at the intersection of Capitol and Grove Street seems to have been preserved almost flawlessly, The Boise Basque Block.
When I go to take photos for this article, it’s a perfect fall-day, which I think just might be the perfect time of the year to visit the infamous block. The vibrant yellow leaves from the trees that hang overhead are balanced out perfectly by the deep reds and greens scattered throughout the buildings, the colors reflecting the Basque Ikurriña flag that drapes off the nearby poles.
In Boise’s Basque Block, you’ll find a number of great places to visit. The Basque Museum & Cultural Center offers tours for only $5 and often hosts plenty of great local events. Bar Gernika is a perfect close-quarters bar with both authentic basque food (lamb and solomo sandwiches that have to be tasted to be believed) and traditional american food (their burgers are quite good, too!), set in a small brick building at the end of the block.
The Basque Center is an events center with a cozy bar off to the side. While the events center is reserved for large parties (such as weddings, Treefort Launch Parties, etc.), the bar is open to the public at all times. The Basque Market is known for their weekly giant paellas, incredible tapas/pintxos and huge selection of Basque and Spanish wines.
Leku Ona is more of a fine dining experience - a place to take the family, if you will. It also doubles as a wonderful hotel set right in the heart of downtown Boise! Why wouldn’t you want to stay in a small, cozy hotel above an incredibly delicious restaurant?
Right down from Leku Ona you’ll find Bardenay - the nation’s first restaurant distillery! They set the industry standard by combining a full service restaurant and bar with a distillery - and they gave us a wonderful place to visit on the weekends.
Check out our gallery below! And feel free to tell us some of your favorite memories you’ve had on the celebrated Basque Block!