The Gashouse celebrates its 40th anniversary
When Frank Gifford gives not just one, but multiple unsolicited shoutouts to a Vail Valley restaurant during Monday Night Football broadcasts for no other reason than he simply loves it, you know it has to be good. With a second home in Cordillera, he and Kathie Lee Gifford regularly dined at The Gashouse in Edwards and especially loved its all-you-can-eat quail specials.
Throughout its 40 years, The Gashouse has become a staple of the Vail Valley, drawing everyone from locals to celebrities.
In 1982, current owner Connie Irons renovated one of the first buildings in Edwards, a historic log cabin, which originally acted as a gas station dating back to the 1940s. She and her husband at the time, along with another couple, rented the space for about a year, and then bought it, opening The Gashouse in 1983.
At the time, Edwards was nearly nonexistent. Arrowhead wasn’t there, and Singletree had just started selling lots out of a trailer.
“Friends thought we were just crazy,” Irons said.
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But the four entrepreneurs had a vision. Before opening The Gashouse, they regularly drove over Vail Pass to The Moosejaw in Frisco for an affordable place to eat and enjoy nightlife. And, even though Edwards seemed so very far from Vail — Gashouse manager Andy Guy said “people would come down from Vail, and they thought they’d left the planet” — The Gashouse built a reputation, first as a bar serving nachos and chili, and then evolving into more fine dining with the likes of steaks, wild game and fresh seafood.
“It was a whole different world 34 years ago,” Guy said about his arrival as a bartender and waiter at The Gashouse in 1989. “There were not many homes, just a trailer park and two other restaurants … No traffic light, no roundabout, and an open pasture with cows roaming … It was the Wild West. We had a hitching post, and seeing four to five horses hitched to it was not unusual.”
In the early days, the “best characters,” like Ellis “Bearcat” Bearden, whose family raised cattle and grew crops in what’s now Cordillera; Dodi, a “funny guy,” Irons said, who owned the land where Arrowhead is; and George Jouflas, who Vail Daily reporter Randy Wyrick, in a 2012 obituary wrote “was one of the all-time great characters and charming deal-makers. The man could play strip poker with the devil and never feel a draft.” Jouflas stood up for The Gashouse in front of the liquor board when the establishment was having trouble getting a license, Irons said.
“Now their grandchildren are coming in,” she said.
The Gashouse is just that kind of place, where generations continue visiting the legendary restaurant and bar. Irons, who splits her time between Colorado and Hawaii, has run into people on the island who recognize her as The Gashouse owner, and Guy recalls a father from Mexico City carrying in his tiny son over 30 years ago when the family would visit eight to 10 times a year. Recently, that “tiny” son came into The Gashouse carrying a young boy of his own.
And, speaking of bringing the kids along, as a 20-something opening a new business, Irons was also working in the restaurant with her daughters in a snuggly (and while she was pregnant).
“We were busier on weekends, and people started noticing we had good food at very reasonable prices,” Irons said about the early days.
The atmosphere was (and still is) also a big draw, with a classic Rocky Mountain feel, down to donated hunting trophies on the wall and ski passes from notable locals and Olympians laminated on the bar.
“The draw of The Gashouse is, in most restaurants, you could be in New York, Chicago or L.A. When you’re in the building (of The Gashouse), you know you’re up in the mountains. The ambiance really defines the restaurant, and we built the menu to match the ambiance,” Guy said.
Back in the day, it was the locals who kept the business afloat. In fact, they’ve kept The Gashouse alive during a couple of challenging years, the most recent being during the pandemic, when locals rushed in to place to-go orders (tipping waitstaff handsomely, Guy said) before in-person dining resumed. Prior to that, construction of the roundabout right in front of the restaurant stagnated business because customers couldn’t get into the parking lot, so they had to walk from the Riverwalk or other nearby areas.
“We navigated through that construction, but I wasn’t 100% sure if we were going to make it. It really hurt us,” Guy said, talking about how they had to cut costs to survive. “The town was supportive, and a lot of customers made the extra effort to support us. We saw that during COVID, too. The support of the community has helped us through the roundabout and COVID.”
Fortunately, The Gashouse had been going strong, thanks to both locals and visitors, well before those bumps in the road.
“It’s been very popular with locals, and then, they draw the tourists, because tourists ask, ‘where do the locals eat?’” Guy said.
Now, post-COVID-19, people who were previously second- and third-homeowners have moved more permanently to the Valley; customers who showed up three to four times a year are now dining there three to four times a week, Guy said.
The Gashouse’s menu has evolved along with the community; when Arrowhead and Singletree became established, its new homeowners wanted more than burgers, so the restaurant started serving wild game, seafood and steaks, which the staff still, to this day, hand cuts for the best quality.
“Using Colorado products and hand-cutting the steaks increases the quality,” Guy said. “Our menu is pretty big, but it’s simple. We let our food speak for itself.”
In addition to 36-ounce tomahawk steaks, elk, buffalo and fresh oysters from the West and East coasts, one of the standout items on the menu includes the crabcakes, which feature Irons’ grandmother’s recipe (her grandmother owned a restaurant in Maryland, so running restaurants is in Irons’ blood).
Another “secret” of The Gashouse’s success revolves around its longtime employees. Guy returned to The Gashouse after gaining experience helping to open four restaurants in Cordillera and managing restaurants in Vail and has been there for a total of 20 years. Emilio Ruelas has been in the kitchen for about 35 years, and chef Jamie Jones has been there for about 20 years, after initially working there in his late teens, getting outside experience, and returning.
“They like what they do. The kitchen likes experimenting, and Andy goes the extra mile … And I still like going in there and eating,” Irons said. “(The team) is like family. We all treat each other equally. I’m not ‘the owner.’ I’m Connie. We all respect each other, and we meet to talk about what we’re doing right and what we may be doing wrong and work it out. We have open communication, which is really important.”
When the restaurant opened after COVID-19 shutdowns, Irons gave everyone who was fully vaccinated a $100 bonus, a point in which she takes pride.
“I thought it was important that we worked as a team — it’s a respect thing. I thought it was really important,” she said. “During COVID, we tightened our belts, put our heads down and kept on going. Business has been booming since COVID.”
And the trend of “going strong” is something Irons sees stretching into the future, though during her 40th anniversary of the restaurant’s opening, she simply expresses gratitude.
“I was just lucky I was there at the right time and I have such a great team,” Irons said.
“With any of our goals, it really comes down to the employees making it happen,” Guy said. “Edwards is growing so exponentially, we’re very optimistic for the future. We’re a neighborhood restaurant as much as a tourist restaurant … We thank the community and the staff — the kitchen and the front-of-house — for that.”