Jim Slevin – the first of Vail’s fine restaurateurs
While having a glass of wine, Faller asked if Slevin enjoyed wine. Slevin answered,
“I was brought up my first 20 years in Paris, and I really enjoy wine,” Slevin answered.
“That’s it,” Faller replied. “You are the sommelier of The Lodge at Vail!”
With that, Jim Slevin started his own success story.
During that first winter, Slevin decided that Vail was where he wanted to be. He saw opportunity and found it the next summer when I was building my second commercial building, the Plaza, on Bridge Street, opposite the Red Lion. After studying the plans, Slevin told me that he wanted to rent some space in the basement.
“Who wants a basement?,” I said.
“I do,” replied Jim.
“What for?” I wanted to know.
“To put in a restaurant,” said Jim.
“What do you know about a restaurant?” I continued.
“Nothing,” he said, “but I’ve been eating out for the last 12 years in Paris, Rome, Madrid, and London. I enjoy the spirit of restaurants. I’m a bachelor and I have been for 12 years.”
With that, Slevin raised the money with the help of his friends in New York and started La Cave, a French restaurant with vaulted ceilings in the basement of the Plaza Lodge.
The waiters all came from the Elbow Beach Club in Bermuda, where they had worked for Joe Staufer. Slevin, with little or no experience, was fortunate that the waiters knew what they were doing, and they were kind to him. They helped to get the place rolling.
The waiters went on to great achievements as well. Pepi Langegger owns two restaurants – the Tyrolean Inn (which was originally Ernst Larese’s Blue Cow) and the Golden Eagle in Beaver Creek. Hermann Staufer, Joe’s brother, owned the Lancelot Restaurant, which he recently sold. Both Langegger and Hermann Staufer own ranches near Rifle, where they raise game for their restaurants. Peter Stadler, who has land in Grand Junction and Barbados, owned the Up the Creek Restaurant. Gotfried Staufer, another of Joe’s brothers, also owned Ambrosia, which is now Campo de Fiori.
La Cave was very popular at night – but not for lunch, so Slevin persuaded me to let him rent the ski-storage space on the ground level, which he then turned into the Copper Bar. Slevin’s lease with the Plaza Lodge was for five years, with three five-year options. The price started at about $3 per square foot, with small annual cost-of-living increases. As it turned out, it was probably the best lease of 20 years ever made in Vail.
When John Donovan acquired the Copper Bar from Slevin, he changed the name to Donovan’s Copper Bar. Slevin sold La Cave to Peter Cremaris when Peter purchased the Plaza Lodge in 1968.
Over the years, La Cave was the chosen spot for many special parties. John Lindsey, mayor of New York, and his wife, Mary, held a birthday party for Caroline Kennedy. Those in attendance included Eunice Shriver, John Kennedy Jr., and Jackie Onassis. On another occasion, Vail homeowner Bob Galvin, of Motorola, and IBM chairman Tom Watson gave a party for Senator Chuck Percy of Illinois. It was for “men only” and was to propose that Percy run for President of the United States.
Slevin later built the Golden Peak House at the head of Bridge Street. After many years, he sold it. It was then torn down and replaced with the present Bridge Street Lodge.
Slevin met his wife, Daphne, in Vail in 1963. They now are both retired, enjoying their many pleasant memories in their beautiful home near the east end of the Vail Golf Course. Daphne Slevin was Peter Seibert’s secretary when the Vail Associates’ offices were two hotel rooms off the main lobby of The Lodge. The two were married soon after. With Ann Staufer, Daphne Slevin started the Kaleidoscope Gift Shop in the Golden Peak Building. Today, Jim Slevin’s son John owns Prudential Gore Range Properties.
Editor’s Note: In a continued effort to help the community understand its roots, the Vail Daily for a second time is serializing Dick Hauserman’s “The Inventors of Vail.” This is the 103rd installment, an excerpt from chapter 12, “The Ever-Increasing “New Locals.” The book is available at Verbatim Booksellers, The Bookworm of Edwards, Pepi’s Sports, Gorsuch Ltd. and The Rucksack, as well as other retailers throughout the valley. Hauserman can be contacted by phone at 926-2895 or by mail at P.O. Box 1410, Edwards CO, 81632.