Local restaurants celebrate summer afternoons in style with music, sun and specials
By Phil Lindeman
Photo by Jack Affleck
When it comes to enjoying summertime in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, nothing beats a warm deck, hot sounds and cold beer.
Beginning each year in late June and running until late August, restaurants from Vail to Gypsum start unrolling Friday Afternoon Clubs, a sort of happy hour on steroids, crafted to kick off the weekend in laid-back, budget-friendly style. Thanks to a wealth of local musical talent and plenty of sun-drenched deck space, these FACs have become a valley favorite, giving folks a place to congregate before the insanity of the weekend rush.
The FAC at Cima, the Latin-inspired anchor restaurant in Avon’s Westin Riverfront Resort, almost perfectly encapsulates the appeal of an afternoon gathering. Between an expansive deck, fresh food, summery drinks, raucous music and stunning views of Beaver Creek, it has become a popular and steadfast hangout, despite a recent ownership change.
“After the long winter, even the cooks are really excited to begin working with new ingredients,” says Executive Chef John Calloway, who developed a new taco menu specifically for the FAC. “We want to have a little bit of everything while keeping guests happy and sticking to our style, which is about bold flavors.”
Along with Cima, Eagle County is spattered with numerous FACs. SneakPEAK dug into a few of the most popular to uncover what’s cooking, who’s playing and why Friday afternoon is the new Saturday night.
Talon’s Deck Grill at Eagle’s Nest, Vail Mountain
As one of the valley’s original FACs, the event held behind Eagle’s Nest at the top of the Vista Bahn Gondola touts the kind of views and atmosphere that made Vail Mountain famous. Starting June 22, gondola rides after 4 p.m. cost $15 and include a $10 voucher for food and drinks at two on-mountain eateries, Talon’s Deck Grill and Bistro Fourteen. The voucher is also good for Adventure Ridge activities, such as disc golf, a climbing wall and bungee trampolines. Things kick off at 5 p.m. with free music and specials
For eats, Talon’s Deck Grill features traditional grilled grub – brats, burgers, chicken and the like – while sit-down service at the indoor Bistro Fourteen is American fare with a twist, from slow-roasted chicken pot pie to buffalo meatball subs. Pricing is under $10 for grill combos and up to $20 for fancier dishes.
The Vail FAC is heavy on tourists and up-valley residents, but it’s perfect for families. Three full months of partying kicks off with longtime deck favorites Bluzilla, a local rock band with a penchant for solid, non-stop riffing. Other local acts include Americana act The Laughing Bones, bluegrass group Hardscrabble and Vail stalwarts FC Funk Band.
Montaña’s Cantina and Grill, Avon
Summer came early to Montaña’s in the heart of Avon, where the “Friday Afternoon Casual” events have been pumping since early May. Owners wanted a laid-back, casual atmosphere for locals eyeing a quick drink and affordable food after work.
“We probably have the best deck and the best view in Avon,” owner Tom Beaver says. “We really wanted to stick with that casual vibe.
The deck gets hopping at 5 p.m., when local DJs spin pop hits and the twenty-something crowd dines on burgers, wings and nachos for under $10, plus the marquee deal of two tacos for $3 until 6 p.m. The restaurant partnered with Crazy Mountain Brewery in Edwards for a free keg every Friday – yes, every Friday – and Vail’s Black Diamond Rentals for giveaways. Once the keg runs out, drafts are $2.50 and margaritas are $4 until 9:30 p.m. Once the sun goes down, the party moves upstairs to the restaurant’s large indoor dance space, Montaña’s After Dark, where DJs continue spinning throughout the night.
Cima at Westin Riverfront Resort, Avon
Avon is home to more than a few FACs, but few put on a party like the Westin’s signature restaurant, beginning June 22 at 6 p.m. and running through the end of August. The big draw here is the food: Executive Chef Calloway oversaw the planting of a new garden on the resort grounds, and kale, beets, fennel and herbs go direct from the ground to plates.
Along with cookout favorites like burgers and grilled chicken, Calloway built the FAC menu to have a taqueria slant, opting for the bright, full flavors of street-vendor tacos. Ingredients include rock shrimp, pork carnitas, carne asada and chicken tinga (braised and shredded chicken cooked with chipotle peppers for a smoky flavor), all packed in small tortillas to highlight Calloway’s philosophy of “hot, salty, sour and sweet.” Pricing is still in the air, but it will likely be under $7 for a small plate, equivalent to current happy hour deals. Cocktails start at $5.
The younger crowd at the Cima FAC is a pretty equal mix of locals and tourists, thanks in part to a huge variety of music. This year’s lineup isn’t yet solidified, but past acts included the prolific rock/jam group Frogs Gone Fishin’ and State Bridge favorites Min’urn Express.
Gore Range Brewery, Edwards
The Gore Range Brewery FAC was another early starter this year with a mid-May kickoff, highlighting its status as favorite for permanent residents. Running from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., the deck comes alive with music in the shadow of the brewery’s grain silos and nearby mountain peaks. The FAC overlaps with happy hour, which ends at 6 p.m. and includes $4 well drinks, $5 house wines and $3 craft-brewed beers.
Music is always free and trends toward small, acoustic local acts. The lineup rotates every week, and includes upcoming artists like the talented singer/songwriter Elli Gauthier of the Minturn-based female duo Boxcar Daisies.
Friday afternoons don’t have a monopoly on good music and vibes. Here’s a look at other restaurants with recurring events throughout the summer:
Main Street Grill, Edwards – Mondays at 10 p.m., featuring free acoustic bluegrass and $4 you-call-its.
Agave, Avon – Tuesdays from 5 p.m. to midnight, featuring $1.50 hard tacos. Free local music runs from 10 p.m. to midnight with $2 drafts.
Red Lion, Vail – Wednesdays beginning June 27 from 7:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., featuring free music from local legend Phil Long and $4 20-ounce Coors Light drafts or $5.50 for all other 20-ounce drafts.
Balata, Sonnenalp Resort in Vail – Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., with rotating music by local duos and trios for no cover. Special includes a $100 punch card for 30 beers or 15 sparkling wines.