I walked into the Owyhee yesterday at 4 p.m. It’s a place most of us haven’t set foot in for about a year – owner Clay Carley has been busy with an intense restoration/remodel, working with the Idaho State Historical Society to get it right.
The word that came to mind as I walked into the transformed space: surreal.
Gone are the dark woods, ceiling and walls. Gone are the ghosts from the 70s: shag carpet, Liberace chandeliers. The palette, once brown, green and maroon, is now more like sherbet: lemon, lime and tangerine. The wood is blonde(!) in the lobby – yes, there is still a lobby, just no hotel.
I have a personal connection to this space; my husband Bob Neal and I were married in 2006 in one of the booths in the Gamekeeper Lounge. When we would stop in for a cocktail, we always referred to that booth as “our booth.” And, when I heard they were ripping those booths out, I contacted Mr. Carley and told him about my romantic attachment. Yep, that booth — “ours” — is now ensconced on our backyard patio. I hope the Owyhee continues to make those kinds of special memories.
Come July 9, Carley and company will open the venerable Idaho icon’s doors to the public. I was there for a press tour of Kindness, the new restaurant that will not actually open until July 24, but will put out the welcome mat and serve cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at the Owyhee’s grand opening. My media colleagues and I got a sneak peek at what the rest of you will see then. And, of course, we got the lowdown on Kindness, a restaurant and catering service that will serve breakfast, dinner and Sunday brunch in the former Plaza Grill area, and will pour cocktails in the open and airy lobby bar area, as well as up top in the Owyhee Rooftop, where there is both a covered bar space and an outdoor rooftop patio area.
Kindness will also be the caterer du jour for events at the Owyhee. The ballroom space can now accommodate up to 500 in a reception style, Michael Tapia, co-owner of Kindness, said. Tapia also said that while the rooftop space will be open and cocktails will be served there on July 9, the space will mostly be reserved for events – although he said that he is toying with the idea of having weekend brunch up there, too.
If he does, he will likely be sold out every weekend. It is a magnificent view and one most of us have never seen. You can see the workers at JUMP, as well as the panorama of the foothills of the Boise Front and our own skyline skyscrapers.
Other things I noticed: There is a “library table” space in the bar/lobby, as well as a fireplace and a shuffleboard (where the old player piano used to reside, for those who might remember that). The old main entrance (I’m not sure where the new main entrance will be – it was a challenge to find my way in through the construction crews and locked doors) is saddled by retail space to the west. The Beehive Salon will be one of the residents, and, on the northeast corner, there’s another as-yet-unnamed restaurant space.
Great care and attention to detail has been taken to assure the history of the place. Tapia said in some instances, when the construction crews were uncovering what had been covered up for decades, they would come across a beautiful column, only to find out they had to cover it up again. “They found out that in order for it to be historically accurate, it has to be restored to what it was when it opened – and those columns were covered up then so they must be covered up now.”
Original tile flooring was in good enough shape to keep in the bar area. In other places, it has been replaced with new tile that looks similar to the original.
About Kindness: Tapia said the unusual name is all about serving others. He said that some shake their heads about it – “in a weird way, I like that.” Tapia’s wife, Anna Tapia, is the chef. She has been in the local food business, mostly as a caterer, for 15 years, including a stint as catering manager for Life’s Kitchen and most recently at Tapia’s Gourmet on Broadway. Her first catering gig may have made the biggest impression when she was in charge of feeding the Idaho State Supreme Court justices.
Billing itself as a “New American” restaurant with Mediterranean and Italian influences, look for the food on the menu (which Tapia is still tinkering with) to be seasonal, fresh, and, when possible, local.
It sounds pretty good and most of the usual suspects are there – Caesar salad, French onion soup, steak, pizza and pasta – with some interesting sounding newcomers: NW Mixed Grill – elk medallion, Lava Lakes lamb sausage and quail; personal meatloaf; housemade pasta and Garden City Bar Prawns.
But, I did note with nostalgic sadness that there were no Gamekeeper Oysters or Gamekeeper Prawns on the menu. And when I called just to make sure, Christina Navarro, who is handling their public relations, confirmed. However, Navarro noted that the other restaurant space, which is yet unnamed, could theoretically take the old Gamekeeper name and possible revive some of the Gamekeeper menu items.
So keep hope alive.
And thanks again, Clay Carley.
The Owyhee grand opening is 6-9 p.m. July 9 and includes a “pop-up block party” in the back parking lot. www.theowyhee.com