Here in the Vail Valley, known for its adventurous mountain lifestyle and spirited nightlife, it can sometimes be a challenge to fit formal fine dining into an evening’s entertainment. Thankfully, a growing number of restaurants and taverns here are making their most popular and palate-pleasing dishes available on their bar menus, giving food-savvy patrons a casual way to gather and indulge in some of the area’s culinary highlights. Here are a few recommendations to get you started on your quest for top-notch bar nosh.
Montauk Seafood Grill: The nearest ocean may be more than 750 miles away, but high-quality seafood is a mountain specialty at Montauk Seafood Grill in Lionshead. Manager Cameron Douglas opens the doors for a “slow start” at 5 p.m. with the full menu, prepared by his partner, chef Dimitri Souvorin, available at the bar.
I suggest settling in with Montauk’s famously creamy and rich lobster macaroni and cheese—especially if joined by veteran barman Ron Girotti’s creation, the Sayulita Margarita, a margarita martini shaken with muddled serrano, herradura reposado, jalapeño infused agave, fresh lime juice, and a sugar/salt/cayenne rim. More ocean fare from Montauk’s raw bar, such as the Malpeque and Kumamoto oysters, pairs well with the Cranberry Orange Shrub, a mixed drink with Peach Street Distillery gin, cranberry infused apple cider vinegar, orange bitters, and club soda.
But one of the biggest treats at the bar here is tucking into one of Montauk’s signature dishes, such as the yellowfin tun, seared rare to tender perfection, and the pan-roasted Main sea scallops, served with leek and green pea risotto, Main lobster butter, and a baby watercress and radish salad with a citrus vinaigrette. You’ll still be nowhere near the shore, but you just may sense a fresh ocean breeze. 549 E. Lionshead Cr, Vail; 970-476-2601; https://www.montaukvail.com/
Bol: A great addition to the Vail dining scene is bōl. Contemporary flair suffuses the space, from the long, sleek bar in front through the open dining area to “the back,” home to a high-tech, 10-lane bowling alley.
Don’t let the all-comers, all-moods vibe fool you: this is inventive, inspired cuisine. On a menu long on small plates (ideally suited to bowlers and adventurous diners), I highly recommend the homemade Bavarian pretzels with raclette fondue and charcuterie, as well as the spicy honey-glazed ribs, which are out of this world. Other great options include the all-natural Eaton Ranch burger—perhaps the best in the valley—or the sweet pea ravioli topped with a poached egg, pancetta, asparagus, mixed wild mushrooms, arugula, and hollandaise sauce.
Bōl takes its beverages just as seriously. In addition to a wide range of craft beers made from Colorado to Belgium—I just had to try the Fresh Squeezed IPA, from Oregon -- and an extensive list of fine wines by the glass, the house cocktails include Mother's Mercy (St. Germain, Cocchi Americano, lime, grapefruit, and epic tart n juicy sour IPA) and something called Bad Santa. I won't reveal its contents here, but like everything else at bōl, you can be sure it mixes playfulness with refinement. 141 E. Meadow Drive, Suite 113, Vail; 970-476-5300; https://www.bolvail.com/#home
Vin48 Restaurant & Wine Bar: At the center of Avon in the curious “boat building,” Vin48 Restaurant & Wine Bar is celebrating its eleventh year with an ever-changing rustic American menu to complement its thoroughly sophisticated Enomatic wine-preservation system—disguised as a modern bar with wraparound windows. About three dozen fine wines are available by the glass, or half-glass, for pairings with small and large plates in this convivial, light-filled room.
Vin48’s “wine guy,” Greg Enyon, is so confident in his pairings that he includes them right on the menu of “additions,” which allows chef Charles Hays to tailor his specials to the foods in season. Perhaps an even better approach here is to consult Enyon on a wine choice first and let the food follow.
Not that it’ll be easy with the cuisine on offer here. I suggest entering the fray with the pan seared baby octopus, served with Italian sausage, panzanella, and Franci Villa olive oil -- obviously a match for a more assertive varietal. Follow with the succulent grilled Colorado lamb sirloin, whose comparatively subtle flavors are echoed by a pink peppercorn brandy sauce, parmesan-garlic steak frites, and red onion marmalade. For a bold finish, try the chocolate tahini tart served with chocolate mousse, sesame brittle, and orange crème fraîche. 48 E. Beaver Creek Blvd., Avon; 970-748-9463. http://www.vin48.com/
Pepi’s Bar: The Vail experience is just not complete without meeting friends for food and frolic at Pepi’s Bar, in Vail Village’s landmark Hotel-Gasthof Gramshammer. With live music starting nightly at 4 p.m. during the winter season and an inviting list of bar appetizers gleaned from the main dining room’s full menu of Austrian and continental cuisine, Pepi’s exudes the personalized hospitality of owners and Vail pioneers Pepi and Sheika Gramshammer.
Sheika says she’s been perfecting the bar’s signature dish, Hungarian goulash soup, since she and her husband opened their establishment in 1964—and she declines to reveal her “secret Hungarian ingredient.” But you know you’ll be getting a robust meat stew with ample onions, garlic, and paprika, a welcome winter warmer after a day on the slopes. If you visit in the summer, make sure to order the skilled-seared truffle gnocchi, or the more traditional smoked buffalo bratwurst with sauerkraut and red cabbage.
Enjoy it all with one of several draft beers—Pepi’s is the largest importer of Munich’s Paulaner beer in North America—or an all-season cup of hot apple cider. While other area bars may be sleeker or trendier, Pepi’s remains a proud bastion of gemütlichkeit. 231 E. Gore Creek Drive, Vail; 970-476-4671. http://www.pepis.com/index.php