Dominique Berho
The Mode uses an assortment of fresh spices and tinctures to make extracts, flavorings, and other ingredients for its drinks.

Cocktails à La Mode

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A craft cocktail bar reinvigorates Idaho’s capital city by giving the historic downtown a modern update.
By Ellen Koteff January 2015 Spirits

In homage to Boise, The Mode Lounge celebrates the history of the landmark building it calls home and at the same time invigorates the downtown with its innovative, popular gastrolounge concept that reflects the new vitality of Idaho’s thriving state capital.

An amalgamation of old and new, the lounge is located in The Mode Building, which has served as the geographic heart of Boise since 1895, and housed department store The Mode from 1895 to 1991. The Mode Lounge has captured the attention of regulars and first-time visitors with its cocktail culture and made-from-scratch approach to anything drinkable or edible.

“We are overly ambitious and control freaks—so we like to make everything for ourselves,” says Brian Livesay, general manager.

When Livesay says everything, he means it. A variety of imaginative bitters such as apple spice, blackberry rye, grapefruit cashew, and celery rhubarb are all part of the cocktail culture, along with proprietary ginger ale and a host of juices.

“We are trying to be on the forefront of a cocktail movement,” says Livesay. “A lot of people didn’t know what to make of us at first, but we genuinely enjoy talking about cocktails, wine, and bourbon. We want to share the passion.”

Helping to spread that passion is an array of intriguing $9 and $11 cocktails that change frequently, along with a range of beverage choices including wine, beer, Champagne, and cider.

On the menu this fall were takes on classic cocktails such as the Bramble, a popular concoction that combines Beefeater London Dry Gin, lemon, simple syrup, Crème Yvette, and Blackberry Rye Tincture. Death in the Afternoon, a mixture of Kubler Absinthe, Giovinello Secco, simple syrup, and raspberry, was another fall favorite.

“We are introducing Boise to a lot of things it hasn’t experienced before, and our guests are coming back to enjoy a certain level of service and attention to detail,” says Livesay.

Conceived by Russ Crawforth, who also owns the nearby Pie Hole pizzeria, the vision for The Mode was the result of Crawforth’s travels to sophisticated urban locales where he experienced lounge concepts foreign to Boise.

“My vision is for The Mode Lounge to be a part of Boise’s evolution into a one-of-a-kind city that dreams big, plays hard, and lights up the night,” Crawforth says.

Under the guidance of Head Chef Darryl Godard, the roster of small plates has been well received despite the limitations of a tiny kitchen.

“Our chef is phenomenal,” Livesay says. “When we first talked to him we said, ‘Here is the deal: You are not going to have a grill and there are a lot of limitations.’ He immediately started pouring out ideas.”

Chef Godard’s latest dishes include Beef Medallion Salad, Steak Tartare, Chilled Pork Tenderloin, Heirloom Tomato BLT, and Crab Bruschetta.

“We are never going to be the place for a full entrée or a huge steak dinner,” Livesay says. “We are primarily about the drinking.”

Surprisingly, the ROI target for food is break-even, which allows for the beverage menu to take center stage.

“Our primary goal with our food is to cover the cost of ingredients and kitchen labor,” says Livesay. “Our markup is not as high as other places, but we are trying to make The Mode attractive and affordable. As we do a higher volume we will look for higher profit.”

The menu leans toward locally sourced food and drink, and tickets swing between $15 and $40 per person, which attracts a fan base between the ages of “25 and 125,” jests Livesay.

With a blue and brown décor featuring vintage pendant lights and other Art Deco touches, the atmosphere is relaxed and perfect for dates, celebrations, and chilling out. The Mode seats about 80–90 people, with room for another 30 on the patio, and has nine employees.

Special events have included a Booze and Book Night, which was a murder mystery party featuring a local author, and Booze classes, which are held about every other month at a cost of $60 per person.

“We did a class on whiskey and will be doing one on gin and another on tequila and mezcal. These classes take a lot of preparation but are really a lot of fun,” Livesay says.

“These classes are a direct offshoot of bringing a new experience to Boise and getting people excited about the place.”