When Press & Pony opened downtown six years ago, there was an intimate vision for the craft cocktail bar.
By 2019, that concept had become polluted. By popularity. “It was standing room only, open to close,” bar master Erik Schweitzer remembers. Strangers tried to order Fireball shots. “We were like, ‘Wrong bar.’”
“The biggest problem I saw is when my regulars couldn’t come in on the weekends anymore,” Schweitzer says.
When COVID caused Boise bars to be shut down, he saw an opportunity to reset. To “go back to our roots. The things I love doing.”
Press & Pony, 622 W. Idaho St., recently reopened its space as a speakeasy. Not a Prohibition Era haunt where drinks were sipped illegally. And, no, not a members-only lounge — not exactly.
You do have to go underground to enter. Literally. And you need a secret code.
Press & Pony’s door on Idaho Street is permanently locked. The only way to find the bar is by heading around the corner onto Capitol Boulevard, descending into the basement-level Devil’s Den (formerly RamaPong) — and getting the nod from bartender Tavis Huff. From there, you’re guided to a dark hallway, where you punch in a secret elevator code and ascend to craft cocktail nirvana.
There are two ways to acquire the code. You can make advance reservations at the Press & Pony website. Or you can roll the dice — by walking into Devil’s Den and asking Huff to call up and see whether there’s any room.
“I love walk-ins when I can handle them,” Schweitzer says. “But we’ve been getting booked up Fridays and Saturdays.”
Before the pandemic, Press & Pony had space for only about 30 customers. Socially distanced? Half that. Keeping capacity down allows bartenders to give customers — and craft cocktails — the respect they deserve, Schweitzer says.
Brad Walker, CEO of Boise Fry Co. — which owns Press & Pony — says he’s excited to offer discerning drinkers a speakeasy.
“Just walking through a basement bar and getting an elevator code — these are things you see in movies or read about or hear about,” Walker says. “To live that experience, it’s unique and fun, and it gives you that one-on-one experience where you’re not competing with loud music and drunken crowds and things like that.”
Press & Pony is all about personal touch. Fruit is dehydrated in-house. Bartenders do shrubs with serrano peppers. Bell-pepper syrups. If an out-of-stater frequents the bar, Schweitzer might focus on what makes Idaho special, he says, with ingredients like a sugar beet simple syrup.
“The creativity at Press & Pony is off the charts,” Walker says. “This is very intimate. He’s at your table. He’s explaining the origin of the liquor, the origin of a drink, right?”
Press & Pony cocktails are curated to individual tastes. They range in price from $12 to $18. “Every week, I’m changing the menu, I’ve got something new I’m working on,” Schweitzer says.
“What we’re doing now that people are freaking out about is I’m doing way more experiments in the bar. I have time now.”
“We’re doing all these crazy flavors,” he explains, “and I’m just throwing them into drinks left and right. Just making things up on the spot depending on what people are liking. And people are so down with it, because it’s something they’ve never tasted before. It’s like, ‘Why are you mixing celery syrup with bourbon?’”
Press & Pony’s current hours are 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Those will expand to 5 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday later this spring. Within a few months, Schweitzer hopes to start offering a “Sunday School” program, allowing people to come in to learn mixology.
Locking the door isn’t entirely new to Press & Pony. Before doing it permanently, the bar already had offered an annual speakeasy event.
But now that it’s the full-time concept? With a “secret” underground entry?
“With the direction Boise is going and the growth,” Walker says, “we feel that it’s going to be very popular. We’re creating the experience that people will come back for, and tell their friends and family when they come to town.”