Singletree had just opened. There weren’t really homes in Homestead just yet. There was no Arrowhead, no Cordillera, no Eagle Springs,” Irons remembers. There was just something about the vacant, circa 1940s service station that spoke to Irons, her former husband and their friends, Katie and Bucko Clark. The two couples began renovating the restaurant in 1982, painting the powder blue walls and adding the bathrooms.
When the restaurant first opened in, 1983, The Gashouse simply served sandwiches, red pork chili and soup out of a small shack-style kitchen. The chili is still on the menu! In ’83, making a call from Avon to Edwards was considered to be long distance, so the restaurant paid $100 a month for a local number just “so people in Vail and Beaver Creek could call to ask ‘are you open?’” Irons says.
The Clarks sold out their share of the restaurant and moved to Cocoa Beach in 1985 to open a brew pub; Irons just kept on building. And as Edwards grew, so did The Gashouse.
And, then, as Homestead and Singletree grew, so did the restaurant’s menu. “We added steaks and hamburgers,” says Irons, who moved to Vail in 1978 for a single ski season and “stayed for happily ever after.”
In 1985, a back room and patio were added and as Arrowhead grew, a new kitchen was built, as well.
Somewhere around the late ’80s fresh seafood showed up on the menu. At first, crab cakes- Irons’ grandmother’s special recipe were only offered on the weekend but then people began calling and asking Irons to “save them some” be- cause they couldn’t make it in on Friday or Satur- day night. The cakes, too, are now a mainstay.
“I lived on the eastern shore of Maryland in college, and we’d go down to the docks and buy shrimp and crab and fresh fish,” Irons, fondly recalls. “It’s really easy, simple food but so good and light and healthy. I wanted to serve really fresh fish. We got to be good friends with the purveyors and received fresh fish every other day. When things came in fresh and with good prices, we’d buy. And that’s still how we pick things to this day. People know we have discriminating taste.”
Along with steak and fresh seafood, including fresh oysters and fish specials that rotate nightly, the restaurant serves an eclectic variety of wild game buffalo, venison, elk, quail, duck and game sausage. People would point at the animal mounts on the wall—there are around 140—and ask why they didn’t serve game on the menu, says Andy Guy, the restaurant’s general manager who started adding game options to the menu after receiving so many requests.
“There are surprisingly few restaurants in town that serve elk, buffalo and venison and lots of customers wanted to try it,” he says. “Many nights we sell more buffalo and elk than beef. It’s what people want when they’re here on vacation.”
As the menu has evolved over the years, so has the restaurant’s décor, though the “grandpa’s hunting lodge” feel is still very much present. The most recent addition—a shotgun wreath—joins the eclectic collection of old skis, license plates (some even from a famous NASCAR driver), the aforementioned animal mounts and more hanging on the walls of the historical establishment.
“Some of the animal heads are from people who had them in their houses and said ‘I’ll trade you for credit for food,’” Irons says. “The mountain lion, someone had tracked it for six days and shot it with a bow and arrow. The marlin came from a gentleman who caught it whose wife said, ‘Not in my house.’”
Irons discovered the mermaid hanging in the back of the restaurant in an antique store in Delaware. “She had a really pretty face and I put her in the trunk of the rental car I was driving,” she says. And then Irons convinced a nationally known painter to paint the mermaid’s bare breasts with starfish: “I can’t have a naked woman in my restaurant,” she pleaded with him.
But it’s the moose hanging over the wall that’s perhaps the most popular of all. “Every night there are 10 to 12 people who get their photo taken under the moose,” Guy says. “People just love it.” Over the years, many a celebrity has dined at The Gashouse, likely in part because of the unpretentious setting. Frank and Kathy Lee Gifford used to come in back in the day when they owned a home in Cordillera. And Irons remembers quite well a night Dan Quayle came in.
“It was winter and he was with the Secret Service,” shares Irons. “This woman came up and said to me, ‘I want to sit next to him.’ Instead, I put all the locals around him so no one would bother him. The locals couldn’t care less.”
President Gerald Ford and Jack Nicholas are other notables that have graced The Gashouse. “Their planes would land in Eagle then we’d get a phone call saying ‘Can we come in?’” Irons reveals. “Now if we do get a celebrity who comes in, half the time I don’t know who they are. I would know Tom Brady or Manning, but other than that, I wouldn’t know.”
The arguably more important diners—historical Eagle County faces with long ties to the area—have since died. “I remember all the characters—Dodo (David “Pete” Dodo) who owned Arrowhead and the nice sheep farmer, George Jouflas, and Bearcat (Ellis Bearden) would come in,” Connie says, nostalgically. “They were all such characters and it was so fun to watch.”
It was around two decades ago when every restaurant owner’s nightmare happened. A grease fire started at 2 a.m. one September morning in the kitchen after the switch to the fryer broke; the oil heated up and bubbled over.
“Luckily the fire department went in,” Connie recalls. “They couldn’t see each other there was so much smoke. They knocked all the windows out and got all the smoke out. They saved me. They saved the restaurant. It was the worst feeling in the world.” The damage, mainly smoke damage, was extensive. As such, the animal mounts were carefully packed into a semi-truck and shipped to be de-ionized in “Timbuktu, Kansas” to remove the smoke smell.
In all, The Gashouse was closed for three months for the cleanup before reopening on Christmas Eve that same year.
The Gashouse has remained in business even while many a new restaurant has opened (and sometimes closed) nearby over the years. So what accounts for that longevity? Guy attributes its success to the huge menu and the atmosphere. “Everyone can find something they like to eat here, and while this whole valley is full of great restaurants, our atmosphere is really unique,” he says. “You know you’re in the Colorado Rockies.”
For Irons, the Gashouse’s gas, so to speak, is a trifecta. “We have great food, good prices and real friendly people. Not many restaurants have been around for as long—and owned by a woman, at that. Thirty-five years and I’m still learning and that’s a good thing. If you love what you do, it shows through,” she says, with a smile. A great big smile, at that!