As afternoon cools toward evening in Vail Village, throngs of pedestrians—hikers and mountain bikers offloaded from Gondola One, real estate brokers and sales clerks liberated from their daytime duties—shuffle along the cobblestoned car-free streets and ultimately merge into Solantro’s. After a busy debut season as a ski-in happy hour destination, this reborn top-of-Bridge-Street après landmark (formerly the Tap Room) has been adopted by locals and visitors as an alfresco summer hangout known for top-shelf slushy margaritas, live music, and over-the-top fajitas.
Outwardly, the space Solantro’s occupies conforms to the village’s quaint faux Euro aesthetic. But ascend the stairs, and you’ll find a gleaming, wide-open eatery decorated with contemporary art and anchored by one of Vail’s longest bars, staffed by mixologists serving manhattans made with whiskey barrel-aged in-house. The young (and young at heart) daytime crowd tends to congregate outside on the sun-soaked deck, a prime spot for bird’s-eye people watching and serious lounging.
It is lounge-y; we really want Solantro’s to be a comfortable place to just hang out and to eat a great meal,” says Nicole Latour, the restaurant’s manager and daughter of owner Lisa Allen, a Houston restaurateur who changed her business address to the Vail Valley late last year after seven consecutive annual ski vacations with her family. “She’s more in the kitchen; I’m more front of the house.”
Allen’s kitchen philosophy is refreshingly unpretentious: put top-notch ingredients to work in classic crowd-pleasers, then customize with a regional twist. The Philly cheesesteak, for example, is repackaged inside an egg-roll wrapper with a sweet, spicy, and smoky dipping sauce; instead of serving classic calamari, Solantro’s lightly fries its squid along with shrimp, artichoke hearts, and peppers. But by far the most ordered item on the menu is Allen’s Texas-size Fireside Fajitas, which feed four and arrive tableside with a sensuous sizzle, layered with slices of tequila-marinated filet mignon, giant shrimp or chicken, and sautéed poblanos and onions. (A lighter, delectable runner-up is Marcella’s Salad: greens, tomatoes, cukes, and avocado chunks tossed with a tart ginger vinaigrette, garnished with slices of sesame seared-but-rare ahi with dots of red chile dipping sauce.)
Earlier in the afternoon, Solantro’s tends toward a Fitbit-wearing, Salomon-shod crowd, but as the apps turn to entrees the attire trends toward little black dresses and $500 jeans. Likewise, the dinner roster retains some old-school classics (lamb chops, chicken Marsala) cooked with a Texas accent, an influence that shines in the silky roasted corn and poblano chowder crowned with lump crab cake and tortilla strips. Rounding out the craft cocktails at the mile-long bar, a refined wine list features some big fat reds to accompany dishes like a steak Oscar topped with crabmeat, grilled shrimp, and béarnaise sauce with grilled asparagus spears and garlic mashers.
Back around midday, other favorites include the Louisiana gumbo, mahimahi fish tacos, a substantial wedge salad, and a Colorado bison burger on brioche served with addictive Solantro Fries: sweet potato waffles drizzled in blue cheese sauce with blue cheese crumbles, bacon, and chives. And on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Solantro’s roars with a post-church (or trail-churched) crowd grazing on bagels and lox, migas, Southern-style fried chicken and waffles and biscuits and gravy, amplified with a bottomless well of mimosas.
And always on tap for happy hour: live acoustic music starring Phil Long, a Vail icon whose lounge act headlined the Red Lion across Bridge Street for a quarter century. Long’s warm approach and Vail Village cred feel right at home at eager-to-please Solantro’s, a newcomer to a familiar space that’s adding zing to the local après scene in every season.