The Red Lion – Vail’s "trademark’ bar |

The Red Lion – Vail’s "trademark’ bar

Dick Hauserman
Marge and Larry Burdick launched The Red Lion Inn, Vail's first restaurant. In 1962 when skiers slid to a stop at the bottom of Vail Mountain, the Burdicks were there to welcome them.

Burdick went to Denver and stayed with his cousin Gretta Whiteford, who held a dinner party for him. Attending were several of the original Vail group – Jack Tweedy, Peter Seibert, Al Cohen, Bob Fowler, and others. The next day, Seibert drove Burdick to Vail.

As they were about to arrive, they were stopped on the highway and were asked if they had seen a suspicious character. There had been a shootout the night before at State Bridge, west of Vail, and an officer had been killed. That night everyone slept with a shotgun. The mountains were beautiful, but what a way to see them.

The next morning, Burdick met Bob and Barbara Parker and Joe and Bunny Langmaid. Seibert drove them to the top of the mountain, and when Burdick looked down to the Back Bowls, he said, “This site has to be one of the greatest ski areas in the world. Count me in – I want to invest.”

Burdick knew immediately that he belonged in the mountains. Back in Kalamazoo, at a board meeting, Burdick had a disagreement with some of the board members. He decided to resign and walked out of the meeting, never to return. He was free to move to Vail.

Being an expert photographer, he thought he would open a shop. After investigating, however, he decided to construct a building and open a photo shop and bar. Colorado law stated that you had to have food with a bar, so Burdick got into the restaurant business. He called it the Red Lion.

Burdick moved to Chicago in 1961, met Fitz and Eileen Scott, and gave Fitz the job of designing the building. During this time, Burkick, who loved to ski, would go to Aspen. He had black Head powder skis with “Larry Burdick – Vail” stamped on them. The Aspen people discounted Vail, saying it would never amount to anything.

Construction on Burdick’s building began in mid-July but proceeded slowly. Instead of the planned Dec. 15, 1962, completion date, the Red Lion didn’t open until Feb. 15, 1963. Larry had a frantic time securing his liquor license. With the help of a new friend, the same Italian marquis, Tony Gaines, who had assisted the Gramshammers, Burdick obtained his license on Feb. 14, filled his truck with liquor from Gaines’ sources, and was ready for business.

Burdick called all his friends for the opening and almost everyone in town showed up.

“It was a ball,” said Burdick. “It was the beginning of a fun and exciting winter.”

The photo shop was never started and instead gave way to the Vail Clinic. Vail Associates leased the open space and also rented a spare room upstairs for Dr. Jim Garrett from the Mayo Clinic.

In Sept. 1962, Burdick met Marge Walsh and they were married a month later. It was the beginning of yet another love story of one of Vail’s most popular couples. The Red Lion soon became a trademark in Vail – it is synonymous with the town. And it was because of Marge and Larry Burdick.

Over the years, there were several additions to the Red Lion – a major front terrace, a jazz lounge in the rear and a gourmet dining room in the basement called the Lion’s Den, which was the scene of many private parties. About 10 locals, including the future President Ford, would hold an annual Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity party there.

Burdick relates many stories about the many celebrities and famous people who came to the Red Lion.

“Scott Carpenter was a regular because of the hot buttered rums. Jack Heinz, owner of H. J. Heinz Company, loved the clam chowder so much he insisted on having the recipe. Robert Redford would come in alone, with a big floppy hat over his face so people wouldn’t recognize him. Mike Connors was indignant when I thought he was David Jansen. And the Basque sheepherders with guns on their hips would sit at the bar.”

One of Larry’s greatest loves was jazz. In 1967 and 1968, with the help of Bill Whiteford, he was responsible for bringing Dick Gibson’s Jazz Concerts to Vail. The concerts were held on Labor Day weekend, and as many as 40 of the world’s greatest jazz musicians would perform. The three-day event, held in the Casino, was one of Vail’s most successful affairs. It wouldn’t have happened without Marge and Larry Burdick.

Burdick also became interested in the local soccer teams, made up mostly of foreign skiers living in town. He formed the Red Lion Soccer Club, which became “the winningest team in Colorado.”

Larry and Marge Burdick left their mark on Vail. They were both leaders in the community. Larry was on the first board of trustees for the town, a member of the committee that created the bylaws, a member of the architectural-control board, a volunteer firefighter and president of the water and sanitation district for 10 years. Marge was active in many of the charitable causes. Because of the Burdicks and so many others, the community of Vail is better off today.

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 94th 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.

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