John Kaemmer – Vail’s first prolific entrepreneur
In 1963, while driving to Aspen to ski, he noticed the billboard on U.S. Highway 6 welcoming passersby to Vail. He stopped in, looked the place over, and decided to return. Later, he was having dinner at the Vail Village Inn with Allen Brown, the first headmaster, and his wife Pat Goodrow, the head nurse at the clinic. The steaks were terrible, and Kaemmer decided that Vail needed a good steak restaurant.
Allen Brown put Kaemmer in touch with John McBride, who was building the Clock Tower Building, and they worked out a deal. Kaemmer was able to get an SBA loan through Colorado State Bank, owned by the Caulkins Group (George Caulkins, Keith Brown, and Harley Higbie). Kaemmer borrowed $45,000 and opened the London Bar and Grille a week before Christmas in 1965. The name was later changed to the Clock Tower Inn, and in 1969 it was doubled in size with a sidewalk cafe and gas lamps.
It wasn’t long before Kaemmer became a real entrepreneur. He owned Pistachio’s in the Plaza Building, where Vendetta’s is today, La Pinata in the Golden Peak House, and the Clock Tower.
In the 1970s, he offered to sell either of the two restaurants for $175,000. Bruce Hartman bought the Clock Tower Inn instead of the Lord Gore Club, which he was considering. Pistachio’s sold for more than $200,000. Ron Riley bought La Pinata, now called Los Amigos.
Still living in Vail and owner of The Toy Store on Bridge Street, Kaemmer has many stories to tell. When he owned the Clock Tower, the post office was on the east end of the first floor. Two men inside were arguing, and one of them – Gordon Weller – was knocked through the front glass window. Two women standing outside looked on with horror and one of them said, “Oh dear, this really is the wild West!”
Reminiscing, Kaemmer says, “It was a new way of life in Vail. In the beginning I thought it was the best skiing ever. It was the community spirit. It was, what can I do for Vail? – instead of what can Vail do for me.”
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 112th 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.