Like any resort area, Summit County has plenty of sports bars, a number of fancy restaurants, and even a few breweries, but only a handful of them have prospered year after year—some even for a few decades. In a business that can seem enamored of expensive remodels or big-name chefs, these establishments’ success often comes down to one simple ingredient: consistency.
“This has always been steaks and seafood as far back as anyone’s remembered,” says Charlie Eazor, owner of the Blue Spruce in Frisco, a cozy cabin that first sprang up as an inn in 1940. “We have guests in their 70s and 80s who’ve had 30 or 40 anniversaries here. We’ve modified the menu, but only in gradual steps and with respect for what’s expected. On any given evening—even in tourist season—up to 80 percent of our guests have dined here before; if it were dramatically different, people might not like it as much. Even some of our servers have been working here for 20 years.”
With the notable exception of the Hearthstone in Breckenridge, which has also maintained a loyal clientele spanning more than two decades, most of Summit’s long-lasting food favorites do not fall into the category of fine dining. In Dillon, Pug Ryan’s, the town’s oldest steak house, has served sports-bar mainstays like fish and chips and burgers since 1975. The Mountain Lyon Café has been Silverthorne’s favorite greasy spoon, curing hangovers with fluffy omelets and biscuits and gravy since the ’80s, and Breckenridge has a small stronghold of restaurants that have maintained a winning combo of affordability and tasty food for 30 or 40 years—all on the regular dining-out rotation of any longtime resident.
Beer from the Breckenridge Brewery can now be found across the United States, but the restaurant itself has been popping every evening—especially on weekends—for 30 years. And why wouldn’t it be, with a happy hour that serves $2 pints and half-price apps? Fatty’s Pizzeria has expanded since first opening its doors in 1975, but some of the same barflies can still be spotted, and the pie menu has only added a few exotic entries over the years. (The veggie, with its avocado and cashews, proves that such additions sometimes become classics.) Also, of course, there is Downstairs at Eric’s, the only place in town without a single window, but the cavelike space literally spills over with returning customers. It may have morphed from a late-night food spot, pool hall, and live music hall to the sports bar it is today, with dozens of different beers and a variety of sandwiches, burgers, salads, and other comfort food, most under $12. But it clearly understands its primary clientele.
“Our philosophy has always been offering a good value at a fair price,” says Eric Mamula, the son of Breckenridge Mayor Sam Mamula, who attributes some of his restaurant’s lasting popularity to the fact that it landed in Breckenridge right when the town was booming into what it’s become today. “It’s always been about being sensitive to who your customers are. If we didn’t have the locals, we’d be out of business. Another thing about these places that have survived is that they’re good at giving back to the community—donating to many causes all the time. Those are the kinds of things that endear you to people who live here.”
Good food, fair prices, friendly service, and community values: dining fads may come and go, but these are the ingredients that help a local restaurant last a lifetime up here in the mountains. Fancy dress is not required. Or even recommended.