Gasthof Gramshammer celebrates 50 years as a Vail icon
Sheika and The Chairman of the Board
It can now be told.
Frank Sinatra signed Sheika’s work visa so she could stay in the U.S.
In 1959 Sheika was a Las Vegas dancer with a Paris show. It was a big show, 120 people, 40 from Paris. Legendary dancer Juliet Prowse was one of the stars.
“It was considered by some to be the first girly show in Las Vegas,” Sheika said with a smile.
The show returned to Paris, but Sheika stayed, joining a show that performed at The Sands as the opening act for The Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop.
She stuck around Las Vegas, worked with Universal Studios in Hollywood, and in New York City’s fashion industry, and eventually landed in Vail with Pepi who was recruited to Vail by the fledgling ski company. The place has been better for it ever since.
True beauty lasts, and that’s why Sheika Gramshammer has been the belle of the ball for a half century as she and Pepi greet Gasthof Gramshammer guests.
Vail’s Gasthof Gramshammer opened this week in 1964, amid a flurry of activity in the heart of the fledgling resort.
It’s a prime location and the only Vail Village business still operated by its original owners.
Pepi and Sheika still have an apartment above the store where they live most of the time.
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“We still live above the business because we still love living in Vail,” Sheika said. “Vail is our home. It was our first home together and the only home we’ve ever had.”
They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in February and celebrate their 50th year in business this week. Feel free to drop by and congratulate them.
“I came to American to marry a rich American. Look how well it turned out. Look at me,” Sheika laughed.
Five bucks a bed
The original Gasthof Gramshammer had 20 hotel rooms and seven dorm rooms, four beds in each room that cost $5 a bed.
“It was for the ski bums and powder hounds, but it turned out that some of them were 30 and 40 years old,” Sheika said.
Families often took a hotel room and rented some spots in the dorms for their kids.
An Austrian architect designed it in the traditional Bavarian chalet style, and their Vail neighbors helped build it. Almost everyone in town scrambled around for days helping with last minute details. Marge Burdick, who owned the Red Lion — Vail’s original restaurant — with husband, Larry, even loaned Sheika some curtains for Gasthof Gramshammer’s opening day.
“There were times we had to borrow food from each other, but everyone’s goal was to make Vail a great resort,” Sheika said. “Behind the Gasthof Gramshammer was the support and friendship from everyone.”
A friend of Pepi’s, Gene Murphy, from Houston, built the Vail Village Inn and helped them get Gasthof Gramshammer started.
Sheika and Pepi/Pepi and Sheika
But Pepi and Sheika had already started.
Pepi was raised in Austria and was a hotshot professional ski racer, carrying the Vail Associates brand in 1962. Sheika, also Austrian, was working in the New York City fashion industry as a model and designer, had been a dancer in Las Vegas, and worked at Universal Studios in Hollywood.
Sheika landed in Aspen for a three-week vacation and to help open a house for the owner of the Red Onion.
They met in November 1962 in Aspen while Pepi was visiting some of his ski racing buddies.
It might not have been love at first sight, but it came on pretty fast.
Pepi invited her to a Christmas party in Vail. They were engaged in January and got married in Aspen that winter.
“I wanted to stay in Aspen, but I also wanted to be married to Pepi,” Sheika said.
They settled in Vail and Sheika worked in local hotels and bars and went to business school, learning the hospitality industry. Marge Burdick gave Sheika a job in the Red Lion.
In 1963, they put their dreams to work and started building Gasthof Gramshammer. They had lots of options in Vail Village.
Pepi had a keen eye for business. They bought their lot because, as Pepi observed, it’s on the right as people walk through the village toward the mountain. He also calculated that the sun would stay longer on their deck than other spots nearby, and people would stick around longer in the winter.
Vail Associates gave them a little push back because they had a ski/sports shop in their plans, and Vail pioneers Dick and Blanche Hauserman had a three-year exclusive.
However, in those days Vail had the opposite growth problem that it does now — if you didn’t build in a year you lost your option.
So Pepi and Sheika scraped together all their money, put together some investors and started building their hotel.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” Sheika said. “The goal was to make it.”
Three years later, when Blanche’s option ran out, they built their sports shop. They added their nightclub, Sheika’s, in 1976, converting the dorm rooms.
Sheika still had connections from her years in Las Vegas. Rock Hudson, Barbra Streisand and Kirk Douglas visited. So did dozens of others. Among them, Marlene Dietrich and Louie Armstrong. Take a stroll through the place. The photos on the walls of Gasthof Gramshammer are as thorough a history of Vail’s early days as you’re likely to find anywhere. Celebrities signed photos. So did ski racers, politicians and professional athletes.
Prior to the 1989 World Alpine Ski Championships in Vail — the first in the U.S. since Aspen hosted it in the 1950s because the European resorts were still bombed out from World War II — they built their riverside wing.
“Vail is still a great town. Sometimes it’s like a flood of people, but when it goes back into its banks it’s beautiful,” Sheika said.
As much as almost anyone, Sheika and Pepi are the faces of Vail, and after 50 years those faces are still smiling.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
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