On a warm August evening in Breckenridge, I stifled a yawn as I savored one last bite of banana bread topped with rich hazelnut mousse, butter rum toffee, and Chantilly cream. After enjoying a delicious meal and drinks with a few friends, I was feeling full and happy—and very sleepy. Fortunately, I didn’t have to go far. I pushed myself away from the table, wandered upstairs, put on my PJs, and climbed into bed.

This is the beauty of the Carlin, a new “restaurant with rooms” that opened in downtown Breckenridge this summer. The tall white building with dark brown trim, located at the corner of Main Street and Wellington Road, is part eatery, part bar, part inn. The main floor is home to a bright, airy, seafood-focused restaurant with an open kitchen and a raw bar. Below, in the basement, there’s a sultry tavern serving up craft cocktails and elevated bar food. And, on the top floor, four spacious hotel rooms beckon overnight guests.

The Carlin's airy blue-accented dining room.
The main dining room at the Carlin. Photo courtesy of the Calrin

The “restaurant with rooms” idea began percolating while Phillips Armstrong, founder of Colorado-based Destination Hospitality Restaurant Group, was ski racing in Europe several years ago. “I would find myself in these little European towns and I would find a great restaurant,” he says. “Every time I would do that, they would tell me that there were rooms available upstairs. And I thought, ‘That’s kind of cool.’ It seemed like every single ski town that I went to had this restaurant that just happened to have a couple rooms.”

Armstrong’s company had already opened several successful restaurants in Colorado mountain towns, including a trio of Aurum Food & Wine restaurants in Steamboat Springs, Snowmass, and Breckenridge, as well as Table 79 Foodbar and the Periodic Table in Steamboat Springs. So, with his European experiences in mind, he began scouring the state for the right property to accommodate his new concept and, in January 2020, landed on the former home of Extreme Pizza in Breck. After gutting and redesigning the building (and weathering the pandemic), the team unveiled the Carlin three and a half years later in June 2023.

Opening a seafood restaurant in the Rocky Mountains was a risk, purely because of the preconceived notions many diners have about eating fish in such a landlocked place. But Armstrong, who grew up in the Northeast, wanted to dispel the myth that only coastal cities can get fresh fish. “Seafood is just a mental blocker for people in the mountains, but New York City restaurants get seafood in the same timeline we do,” he says. “I knew I was going to be swimming upstream, but I wanted to show people it’s really not any different.”

The Carlin’s raw bar. Photo courtesy of the Carlin

And in a ski town where burgers and steaks reign supreme, Armstrong wanted to give Breckenridge diners a lighter option. At the Carlin’s main floor restaurant, guests are encouraged to chow down on fresh oysters (overnighted directly from farmers on both coasts), shrimp, ceviche, pickled mussels, and seasonal crab. After whetting their appetite with bites from the raw bar, they can move on to larger, shareable entrées designed to be eaten family style, like a thick, seared salmon fillet served over a bed of gnocchi carbonara with guanciale and snap peas.

“The gnocchi are perfect and pillowy—they’re not a dense dumpling, they’re light,” says chef Zach Brace, who oversees all of the Carlin’s culinary offerings. “Having the fresh peas in there and using cream instead of egg yolk in the carbonara also lightens that dish up. You can finish that dish and still feel comfortable at the end of the day.”

Carnivores also have plenty of options, like a bone-in bison ribeye, a roasted half chicken, and barbecue short ribs. Tangy, fermented foods also play a starring role: Brace makes his own hot sauce from fermented chiles and onions, and he incorporates fermented green tomatoes into the tartar sauce he serves alongside the fish and chips. “We’re trying to bring something familiar all the time, but have at least one layer of something unexpected,” he says.

The Carlin’s basement tavern. Photo courtesy of the Carlin

That same philosophy carries over into the basement tavern, which has its own distinct menu. Take the cheesesteak, for example: Brace makes his own version of melty Cheez Whiz with smoked Gouda, sharp cheddar, and provolone, which he chops in with the beef, giardiniera, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. In the fish tacos, he’s opted to use grouper—instead of the standard cod or pollock—because it’s juicier and more flavorful.

Overnight guests who want to have a nightcap in their rooms can open up a bottle of wine or pour from bottles of pre-mixed cocktails (both for an extra fee), like the barrel-aged Vieux Carré, made with vermouth, rye whiskey, bitters, cognac, and an herbal liqueur. And those who want to linger a little longer in the morning before hitting Breckenridge’s hiking trails or ski runs have the option of pre-ordering breakfast the night before. Delivered in a small, vintage cooler, the spread includes house-made granola, yogurt blended with fresh fruit, smoked salmon, honey ham, a mini baguette, orange juice, and a banana.

The Royal Tiger suite at the Carlin. Photo courtesy of the Carlin

As for the inn itself, it functions more like a vacation rental than a traditional hotel. Guests receive a door code via text or email a few hours before check-in, which they use to enter the building and their rooms. There’s no check-in desk, no concierge or bellman, no daily housekeeping, no pool, and no spa, though there is an elevator and free parking (a highly appealing perk in Breck). But the team behind the Carlin gave careful consideration to every in-room detail—from the high-end Frette Italian linens on the bed to the heated towel rack in the bathroom to the Nespresso maker and Rishi teas on the wet bar—to ensure guests are as comfortable as possible when they return from the day’s adventures. “It’s really for a person who wants a hip, cool stay, without being overly bothered,” Armstrong says.

Rooms at the Carlin start at $259/night; 200 N. Main St., Breckenridge

Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta
Sarah Kuta is Colorado-based writer and editor. She writes about travel, lifestyle, food and beverage, fitness, education and anything with a great story behind it.