Tropics at tree line: Tiki bars in Summit County |

Tropics at tree line: Tiki bars in Summit County

Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar was the first Tiki bar to open in Summit County. The spot is known for its views of the Dillon Reservoir.
Photo from Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar

What comes to mind when you hear the words “Summit County?” Do you think of rum drinks with creative garnishes, island music and a gentle sea breeze? Or do you picture shredding down snowcapped peaks, rugged hikes in the wilderness and fresh mountain air?

It may seem odd to have Tiki bars in a ski resort community of a landlocked state, but with three in the region, there’s no reason the cuisine shouldn’t have its fun in the sun like any other restaurant or bar. Tiki’s escapism vibes naturally fit into a year-round vacation destination.

Ernest Raymond Beaumont Gantt, who later changed his name to Donn Beach, is considered the father of Tiki culture with his Don the Beachcomber bar opening in California during the 1930s. Then Victor Bergeron followed suit shortly thereafter with his chain of Polynesian-themed restaurants, Trader Vic’s.

The two developed quintessential cocktails like the scorpion, three dots and a dash, zombie and, of course, the mai tai. Don’t necessarily picture brightly colored slushies spiked with booze, however. While those can be found, as menus vary from restaurant to restaurant, the heyday had balanced, complex drinks that layer flavorful spirits, tart juices and unique syrups.

The culture exploded in the 1950s and early ’60s following World War II, and then the fad faded away in the years to come. But the resurgence of craft cocktails in the 21st century paved the way for a Tiki revival of nuanced flavors and experimentation.

With Summit County boasting Tiki bars young and old, there’s no better time to explore the local scene. The best part is that no passport, plane ticket or cruise is required to get away at these culinary portals.

Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar has a dog-friendly patio. The most popular dish is Tiki Tacos containing blackened cod, pico de gallo, avocado, cabbage and crema.
Photo from Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar

Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar

150 Marina Drive, Dillon

Open from 11:30 a.m. to dusk Memorial Day to Labor Day, weather depending

Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar originated in 1996 as the first Tiki establishment to open in the county. According to Pug Ryan’s co-owner Judy Jordan, it was a simple and modest affair consisting of a bar, some chairs, and a grill for hamburgers and hot dogs. Joe Carey, who owned Antonia’s Italian Restaurant at the time, ran what was then called the Dillon Marina Tiki Bar until Travis and Annie Holton, the founders of Pug Ryan’s, absorbed it into the brewpub that same decade.

The menu evolved and was fine-tuned over the years as the county got larger and the marina became more popular, but Jordan said it hasn’t changed much since she and her husband, John, took over Pug Ryan’s in 2017.

She said the drinks are more popular than the food, with the piña colada and the rum runner being the bestsellers. Most drinks are made with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum as a nod to the sailing community.

When paired with the customer-favorite Tiki Tacos containing blackened cod, pico de gallo, avocado, cabbage and crema, a delicious combination awaits. But the most popular aspect is the dog-friendly view of Dillon Reservoir.

“I think a lot of community members look forward to summer days of riding their bikes down or paddleboarding or kayaking or doing whatever activities they do during the day and then popping into the Tiki Bar to have a drink and sit and watch the day go by on the lake,” Jordan said. “I think it does mean a lot to people.”

The Island Grill sits at Frisco Bay Marina and has a seasonal koozie club that allows people to purchase discounted beer.
Photo from The Island Grill

The Island Grill

249 Marina Road, Frisco

Open from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day, weather depending

On the other side of Dillon Reservoir is The Island Grill in Frisco, which opened in 2005. The grill does serve Tiki drinks, but it focuses on well-made, inexpensive food rather than beer and cocktails. Managing Partner Doug Sakata, who has been with the restaurant for 12 years, said that on a busy day, they’ll sell between 800 and 1,400 meals — not counting people who just order drinks.

“It’s amazing how much food we put out in a postage-stamp sized kitchen,” Sakata said.

The restaurant is looking forward to expanding alongside marina improvements in the coming years, but residents and visitors can still grab a bite to eat in the meantime. Like Pug Ryan’s Tiki Bar, The Island Grill’s most popular dish is fish tacos, which are made with grilled ono — also called wahoo.

“It’s a nice piece of a white fillet of ono, which is a really wonderful fish,” Sakata said. “… We’re only open four months a year, and we serve more ono than any other restaurant in the county that’s open all year. We put out a lot of fish.”

The Island Grill also serves a house-made beet burger crafted with a variety of different spices for vegetarians.

Sakata said the menu draws from his and restaurateur Bobby Kato’s Hawaiian and Southern California roots. Most cocktails are therefore served frozen for beachside vibes, but the mai tai and margaritas are on the rocks.

The bar’s signature drink is the sweet and tart island sunset made with vodka, triple sec, passion fruit puree and a splash of grenadine. Those looking for a deal should sign up for the bar’s koozie club. A personalized koozie for $20 a season gets patrons unlimited $1 beers Sundays through Thursdays during happy hours and one $1 beer during Friday and Saturday happy hours.

The dog-friendly Island Grill is also known for weekly live music on the lawn and being a popular place to catch Fourth of July fireworks, when they happen.

The bar at Castaways Cove features more than 30 rums from around the world. The restaurant specializes in cocktails from Tiki’s golden age and island-inspired food.
Photo by Susie Oszustowicz / Castaways Cove

Castaways Cove

100 S. Park Ave. Unit C102, Breckenridge

Open from noon to 8 p.m. year-round

Summit County’s newest Tiki establishment opened its doors in November 2019, replacing the Tiki Mana Island Grill. Co-owner Michael Beseda thinks of Tiki as a unique, elevated version of the standard taco bar found at ski resorts that offer tropical respite.

For more

This story previously published in the summer edition of Explore Breckenridge & Summit County magazine.

“It seemed like a strangely natural fit to the idea that it could be cold and snowing outside, but you could walk into something that’s more hospitable,” Beseda said.

Castaways Cove provides the hospitality by serving up island-inspired food that’s washed down with classic cocktails from Tiki’s golden age. Beseda said the protein-forward dishes of Spam musubi, loco moco plates and poke bowls provide fuel to hit the slopes no differently than for surfers needing energy to catch waves.

To drink, there’s a selection of 30 rums from all around the world, such as vegetal rhum agricole from Martinique and Batavia arrack made with red rice from Java, Indonesia. During the course of the pandemic, the restaurant innovated to make clarified cocktails on tap for to-go orders. Patrons can expect the refined, bestselling daiquiri and rotating options like the gin-based Saturn or Campari-focused jungle bird. In the future, the restaurant will experiment with frozen palomas and Arnold Palmers.

Their popular mai tai, made with a blend of Appleton Estate Signature and Plantation 3 Stars rums, goes well with the mochiko chicken platter served with rice and macaroni salad.

“It’s a classic Hawaiian plate lunch,” Beseda said. “It’s Hawaiian fried chicken, and we have an absolutely phenomenal brown curry gravy that I just can’t get enough of.”

Tiki newcomers shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions and mention that they don’t like a particular juice or spirit. Beseda said they can put any drink in any mug, so don’t order something purely based on the drinking vessel. Then you can sit outside on the dog-friendly patio next to the Blue River and relax.

“There’s something really special about listening to island music and having running water right next to you that is really, really cool,” Beseda said.

Castaways Cove Saturn Recipe

The Saturn at Castaways Cove is a Tiki drink that is made with Breckenridge Distillery gin. The restaurant also serves cocktails on tap geared toward to-go orders. | Photo by Susie Oszustowicz / Castaways Cove

• 1 1/2 ounces gin, Breckenridge Distillery gin preferred

• 1/4 ounce falernum, The Bitter Truth Golden Falernum preferred

• 1/2 ounce almond syrup, Giffard Orgeat preferred

• 1/2 ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1/4 ounce passion fruit syrup

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a 10-ounce glass. Garnish with a lemon twist and cherry, and enjoy.

Though some drinks like the mai tai and margarita are served on the rocks, The Island Grill focuses on frozen cocktails. Its specialty is the island sunset, made from vodka, triple sec, passion fruit puree and a splash of grenadine.
Photo from The Island Grill

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