Idaho Finds: The Handlebar
As a parent of two young kids, part of me wants to scream at people on a Thursday night at Boise’s The Handlebar. “Hey!” that internal voice yells, “no riding bikes inside!” And later, “No pushing! I said, no pushing!” If I see anyone run with scissors, I’m out the door.
But another voice, from the part of my brain that remembers being a kid, is saying, “ey’re riding bikes inside. This is so cool.” The Handlebar opened last June on the western frontier of downtown. And the Thursday night races were on from the start. Owner Ezra Jackson says they’re integral to the place. He says the whole idea of The Handlebar is to be the meeting place for Boise’s cycling community. If first-timers don’t get that from the name, the bike repair station in the lobby is a giveaway, or the bike themed art, or—on the night I visit—the patrons circling traffic cones on bikes the perfect size for my 2-year-old.
The competition is supposed to start at 8pm, but some hopefuls called in saying please wait for them. So I grab some free popcorn and try some of the 10 or so popcorn toppings. Jackson mixes these himself and he likes to experiment with ingredients and names. I’m sure the Hippie Pow has rosemary, garlic and onion but I can’t guess what’s in the Earth Worm. The Dragonfly Wing has a slight kick but it’s nothing compared to the stuff Jackson keeps behind the bar. Its name is too spicy to print here and its ingredients too spicy to leave unattended. For that Jackson uses all the hottest peppers (hot as in spicy and hot as in trendy): Carolina Reaper, Ghost, stuff like that. I do not try it. I’m thirsty just talking about it.
There are 25 beers and five wines on tap. Jackson says the beverage lineup rotates constantly. He says roughly a quarter of the choices come from Idaho, though that can vary widely from night to night. The rest of the Northwest also features heavily but Jackson says selections can come from anywhere as long as they are unique. This night there are a couple offerings from Rogue Brewery out of Oregon, one from Boise’s Mad Swede. I have a raspberry cider from Wyder’s, based in Vermont. Don’t judge me. It’s delicious. Kind of tastes like a Fresca.
On some nights patrons might watch or participate in a bike relay, a tricycle drag race, or time trials on the couch bike (just what you’re picturing, a couch with wheels and pedals). Jackson calls tonight’s game the “ring of death.” At about 8:30pm the first two contestants start to circle each other, crouching on their tiny bikes. The first to touch the floor loses. As Jackson announces, “light contact” is OK.
Waivers were signed, helmets are worn, but the floor is cement and my dad-brain says this will end in blood. There are several rounds, some falls, but no injuries. And come on, dad-brain: Everybody seems to be having fun.
Tonight’s winner is a rookie who outrode some regulars. His prize is beer, and he qualifies to come back for the monthly championship held each first Thursday. The winners of those get—wait, guess what The Handlebar gives for its big prize. Yep, a bike.
The Handlebar 1519 W. Main St., Boise • Facebook.com/thehandlebarboise