When the Blues Bouquet came up for sale in 2004, Lee Walker jumped at the chance to own a piece of his history.
Certainly the bar, which had been owned by three members of the local band The Hoochie Coochie Men, was a Boise landmark. But Walker remembered vividly sneaking into the place as a teenager with his friend Erich Walton.
So both men were ready when, in August of that year, the bar come up for sale. Walton called Walker, who at the time was working for a television network in Los Angeles.
Walker said he'd always wanted to own a business. But more than that, he'd always wanted to go into business with Walton and do something involved with music.
Walton, who had previously worked at Micron PC as a Web designer, said the impetus for him was threefold: He, too, had always wanted to own a business and he wanted to go into business with Walker. Also, he'd recently lost two important people in his life, compelling him to try and turn his dream into a reality.
But as any entrepreneur knows, the reality of owning a business can be anything but dreamy.
Walker and Walton had also hoped to start a business that would include catering and purchased the Crystal Ballroom—a wedding and private-party venue located in the Hoff Building. The addition of another business proved more difficult than expected, leading to financial and personal headaches for both men. Ultimately, it led Walker and his family to leave Boise and move back to Los Angeles.
Walton stayed the course. He sold the Crystal Ballroom to Big Sky Catering last October, creating an influx of cash that he poured into The Bouquet. He gave the dark, smoky bar a fresh coat of paint, new sound equipment and dramatic new lighting. The change also seemed to inject some new life into Walton, who had begun to look like he bore the weight of the ancient wooden bar on his shoulders. Now he stands a little straighter, a little taller. He's quicker to smile. The weariness he carried around his eyes has begun to lift. Walton still has the look of someone with a thousand undone tasks buzzing around in his mind, but when he's sitting on a bar stool, his hands wrapped around his coffee mug, he almost looks relaxed.
Walton said he misses working with Walker, but said he enjoys being sole owner of The Bouquet.
"There are a lot of advantages to having a partner and a lot of disadvantages," he said. He said learning to balance doing business with a more accepting attitude toward the flow of things.
"In this industry, things change so fast and you have to be willing to change with them," Walton said. "You can't be afraid of new things, and you can't be afraid to fail."
Several big changes have occurred, and more are apparently in the works for the iconic location. Just as he'd found a sense of freedom answering only to himself, Walton agreed to partner with Bravo Entertainment, the company responsible for booking music at the Big Easy. According to Walton, Bravo Entertainment came to him looking for a place to hold acts that were too small or underdeveloped for the Big Easy. Bravo can now bring in musicians whom they might otherwise have had to turn away, and Walton can host musicians and acts who probably wouldn't have previously considered The Bouquet an option. Cover prices for those Bravo shows can be as much as five times what Bouquet patrons used to pay to get in the door, but, at least for now, people are turning out in big numbers.
That change in booking led Walton to take a hard look at the music format of The Bouquet. He recently visited Seattle and went to several clubs he had frequented in his earlier days.
"Some of the clubs I had wanted to mirror this place after had changed their formats," he said. He was surprised to see that the places hosting local music didn't have many patrons. The places that used to have local music had DJs, and Walton noticed they had lines going out the door.
So, as of April 1, The Bouquet will follow suit. Along with a permanent name change to The Bucket (to better reflect what people call his bar in casual conversation), Walton said he'll do something similar to what the Neurolux does. Although he'll continue to have live and local music on Fridays and Saturdays, that will end at 10:30 p.m. At that time, Walton said he'll bring on DJs, stop charging a cover and play recorded music until 2 a.m.
After everything, Walton has also apparently decided that, once again, he has too much time on his hands. He's currently working with the city to get approval to open another bar, this one in the basement of The Bouquet. He's planning a club in the vein of late 1920s gin joints, albeit a non-smoking one. He plans to call it the Speakeasy Lounge and said it will have an old-time gangster feel. He'll also offer a smaller selection of drinks at cheaper prices.
Through all the turbulence, Walton seems to enjoy running The Bouquet. Musicians who have played there seem to like his club, and he's gotten a thrill out of seeing Thomas Dolby, The Yard Dogs, and Fishbone in his place. Last year was profitable, he said, and he feels The Bouquet has finally started to establish itself as a viable venue in the Boise market while he establishes himself more at The Bouquet. He's been known to take a shift bartending, and he's even been at the door, checking IDs, taking money and greeting customers who come in to make a little history of their own.
The Bouquet, 1010 W. Main St., 208-345-6605, TheBouquet.net.