Popular descriptions of Summit County, particularly those targeted at visitors, tend to make liberal use of words like "quaint, " "charming," and "sleepy."
While many of the local towns certainly embrace these adjectives, leveraging their position as an escape in the scenic Rocky Mountains as much as their historic atmosphere, they are by no means defined by them.
On the contrary, a tourist-driven economy and evolving ski culture have nourished a thriving nightlife across Summit County that, frankly, is as much part of its Old West, saloon-raised heritage as mining and Victorian architecture.
Among America's scenic small communities, it's a credit to Summit County to be able to say that it is possible to get a decent meal here after 8 p.m. Many restaurants that are popular during the day - when they have tougher competition than fast food joints and whatever packaged preservatives are on sale at the nearest gas station - keep their kitchens open late.
Restaurants like Downstairs at Eric's in Breckenridge and Arapahoe Cafe in Dillon have food available well after dark, even in the summer time, drawing in a lively and often younger mix of people after the dinner crowds have dispersed.
At Arapahoe Cafe, bypass the sweetly decorated first floor where breakfast is served and head to the bar downstairs for traditional pub fare and a Friday-night vibe. Food is served until 11 p.m.
At Eric's, dozens of TV screens, an arcade and a huge menu keep a good mix of people coming in all night. While it never becomes a hard-core, flashing-light bar scene, the subterranean restaurant and bar can stay busy through last call. Food is served all night.
In Summit County, there's no dress code or high-end party district where pretentious clubs charge $50 covers and about as much for drinks. Though there may be many facets of culture in the High Country, they're all laid back. At both of the exactly two clubs open in Summit, any attire is appropriate, from stilettos to ski gear. Although this time of year, you'll probably get hot in the latter. Cecelias and Liquid Lounge are both located in Breckenridge, fairly close to one another on the south end of Main Street. Because they alone make up the club scene, they're pretty much guaranteed to be packed on weekends during peak season. Though relatively small and definitely more laid back than the average nightclub in a big city, they lack nothing in terms of energy.
For a more relaxed pong-and-pool-tables atmosphere, there are almost too many options to list. Locals' favorites include Ollie's Pub and Grub, a Chicago-themed bar located just across from the Marina on Main Street in Frisco, the Gold Pan in Breckenridge, one of the town's original saloons that is of one of Colorado's oldest standing liquor licenses and Murphy's in Silverthorne, one of the surprisingly few Irish pubs in Summit County. For trivia some nights, open mic others and excellent beer all week long, try the Dillon Dam Brewery in Dillon.
Summit County is many things, and an almost ridiculous music scene for its permanent population size is one of them. There is hardly a bar or restaurant open after 9 p.m. that doesn't feature live music at least one night a week and free, outdoor concerts take place all year long. On the Fourth of July alone Breckenridge's Riverwalk Center featured concerts ranging from the self-described redneck Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to the lauded National Reparatory Orchestra.
Three20South, located at the address it was named for on Main Street in Breckenridge, is another awesome local music venue. Intimate and underground, the venue features live music several nights a week
The Mother Loaded Tavern, also on Breck's Main Street, is also a pretty reliable hotspot for live local music. Musicians and their fans set up camp in the front end of the tavern while the smaller back end remains more of a traditional bar scene.