Ski town, get down: In Vail’s early days, the local watering holes were as important as the skiing

Gartons was constantly a party scene.
Throughout the years, a variety of popular bars have enhanced the streets of Vail. Everyone, especially in the early days, basked in a regional watering hole to capture up, complain and have a helluva lotta enjoyable. At that time, belonging to the bar scene was like going home after work. Before everybody in town had a telephone, moms would call the bar to speak with their kids. They understood where they could find them. Safe– but, needless to say, not constantly sound. In those early days, perhaps even more than now, those raucous, congested joints were the heart and soul of the ski town scene.It actually started with La Cave, New Years Eve, 1963. Jim Slevin paid a years alcohol license for one night! There were 45 rpm records by a new group called The Beatles belting out their hits– “She Loves Me,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Twist & & Shout.” Gartons was regularly in threat of losing its liquor license thanks to the antics of its customers. Picture courtesy Colorado Snowsports Museum
” We had a combined restaurant/nightclub and stayed open till 2 in the early morning,” Daphne Slevin informed Women in Vail authors Elaine Kelton and Carolyn Pope. “I keep in mind being in our apartment and tossing all the expenses up in the air, capturing one, and saying this was the lucky man who was going to get paid.” At the time, it was a bar (La Cave Copper Bar) in addition to a restaurant.Then there was Pistachios where Tom “TS” Simon, who just had $18 when he rolled into Vail in his 1956 Thunderbird, was a bartender. He lived in the Clocktower in the heart of Vail Village– precisely 100 steps from the bar. TS had actually a duck named Fang that he won pitching cents at Cheyenne Frontier Days. And when TS walked to work, the duck waddled along. Fang likewise waddled up and down Pistachios bar and, sometimes, took a sip of shots along the method. One time, Fang fell off the bar and since he was intoxicated, never ever believed about flying. He suffered a hairline fracture in this best leg. You cant make stuff this up! Owners Marge and Larry Burdick lived above the Red Lion Inn with their 7 kids. Photo courtesy Colorado Snowsports Museum
In 1964, Bill Whiteford, by his own admission a “trust-fund” infant and graduate of Stanford, with a Masters degree in geology from the University of Michigan, opened the Casino on the unpaved Bridge Street opposite Pepis. It was modeled after the Reisch Tanz Casino in Kitzbuhel, Austria and was billed as the biggest disco in North America. It was like an Elizabethan theater– a big dance floor and dining area, a balcony with tiers that might be blocked and a list of entertainers like bandleader and jazz trumpeter Dizzie Gillespie, and groups like Irish Rovers. The most popular entertainment was individuals– especially residents, climbing up the bars rafters and sounding the cowbell that hung from the top– then dropping down to the floor. The temporary Ice Bar was perpetually getting closed down– however it was enjoyable while it lasted. Image courtesy Colorado Snowsports Museum
It was a full-service bar with hot pastrami sandwiches, corned beef and pea soup for starters.Without a liquor license or consent from Vail Associates, the bar was shut down. In the end, even with the aid of Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, who had the forest-service worker who had the bar closed, relocated to El Paso, the ice bar was just open on and off for 2 months. His stay in town was short lived and Kevin Foley, presently on Vails Town Council, along with 2 others, purchased the bar.And then came Nu Gnu, opened in the late 1960s by previous Vail mayor Paul Johnson, as one of Vails first rock n roll bars.
What originally opened as a basement bar in the 60s also ended up being a place to see fantastic ski flicks … for 23 years. Everybody noteworthy from U. S. presidents, astronauts, professional athletes and stars to local legends hung out at this bar at some time. One wall, filled with trophies, awards and pictures of both Gramshammers, reveals the history of Vail, the bar and its owners.
At the top of Bridge Street was Cyranos at one end of the building and Los Amigos, at the top of the stairs, on the other end. Cyranos was a bit more of a social bar. At Donovans Copper Bar, both beer and hotdogs were 3 for a dollar.
On Wall Street, a British gent opened a dining establishment including British food and called the location Sweeney Todds, after the British barber/serial killer who killed his customers while they were being in his barber chair. After Sweeney Todds passed away, the Hong Kong Café was born. The place was so near to Chair 1 that many folks started their après ski adventure by scarfing down an order of the remarkable egg rolls along with a Bahama Mama, a magical elixir that included adequate alcohol to float an outrigger canoe, before proceeding. And, out the Hong Kongs windows was a view of Donovans patio area– and any shenanigans that may be going on there.You d be hard-pressed to find anybody who strolled the streets of Vail who didnt go to Mickeys, in the Lodge at Vail. Seeing Mickey Poage was a must! For 35 years the male sat at his grand piano and put on a program, calling every tune he ever sung, his “favorite.” As John F. Kelly, of the Washington Post once wrote, “An excellent piano bar piano player has the pacing of a runner, the memory of an elephant and the understanding of a neighborhood bartender. Hes able to deal with melancholy drunks with the compassion of a priest and obnoxious drunks with the firmness of a bouncer.” And there you have it. A description of Mickey to a T. It was not surprising to discover other talented individuals participate in– singing, maybe playing an instrument. Its just what one did at Mickeys. When Vail Resorts took control of the Lodge, the business gave him the piano in addition to the bar as a parting present. Nowadays, Mickey and his piano are well situated at Vista in Arrowhead– with the sounds of this gifted entertainer wandering out through the windows. At The Saloon of Minturn, if John Wayne didnt drink it, they didnt serve it. Picture courtesy The Saloon
One night, clients were having a spirited, tequila-fueled discussion about what the brand-new owners must call their bar. One person remembers loudly that the previous owner didnt like canines in the bar. To celebrate the end of the ski season, cowboy Richard Crosby rode his horse, Colonel, down Bridge Street, through the front, then out the back door of Donovans Copper Bar.
It has actually constantly housed a dining establishment and bar, though its reported to have actually provided other uses! It was offered in 1938 to a male who altered its name to “Jeffs,” who then sold it in the mid-70s to a male who wanted to turn the bar– accustomed to weekly battles– into a restaurant for travelers. Guyss Journal noted The Saloon as one of the Best Après Ski Bars in the World.
– Over in Vail, music from Nicks, which was underground, could be heard up and down Bridge Street. The people were intoxicated with the throbbing rhythm of the music. Any night, you d find folks from the “huge city” teaching new dances: the hustle, locomotion, line dances. Nicks was constantly “happening.”Mostly, its the fanciful legends about the goings on in Vails early years, the storied ones that stimulate our interest and creativities. When somebody carried a pig into a bar and that exact same someone and an accomplice let live chickens loose in the Vail Village Kentucky Fried Chicken, like. How bout when 37 white mice were left in a femaless rest room? And then there were the rabble-rousers who rode their horses down Bridge Street and into the bars.Just another average night in old Vail.Dont you wish you could have been there?This story originally appeared in Vail Valley Magazine, currently available on newsstands throughout Eagle County and online at http://www.VailValleyMagazine.com.

At the time, it was a bar (La Cave Copper Bar) as well as a restaurant.Then there was Pistachios where Tom “TS” Simon, who only had $18 when he rolled into Vail in his 1956 Thunderbird, was a bartender. It was a full-service bar with hot pastrami sandwiches, corned beef and pea soup for starters.Without an alcohol license or authorization from Vail Associates, the bar was shut down. In the end, even with the help of Secretary of Interior Stewart Udall, who had the forest-service worker who had the bar closed, relocated to El Paso, the ice bar was only open on and off for 2 months. The place where you might discover President Gerald R. Ford at one end of the bar and one of Vails town drunks at the other. His stay in town was short lived and Kevin Foley, presently on Vails Town Council, along with two others, bought the bar.And then came Nu Gnu, opened in the late 1960s by previous Vail mayor Paul Johnson, as one of Vails first rock n roll bars.