There’s no place in Vail Village more steeped in local tradition than Hotel-Gasthof Gramshammer, which in December will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. After all, when Pepi Gramshammer (a dashing young Austrian ski racer) and his fetching bride, Sheika (the daughter of an Austrian innkeeper who worked as a Las Vegas showgirl and fashion model), relocated from Aspen to the valley to open an authentic Innsbruck-style lodge, restaurant, and tavern two seasons after Vail’s lifts started running, their hotel stood alone at the corner of Bridge Street and Gore Creek Drive. Today, it’s still the handsomest building in the long-bustling village, and it’s as integral to the après-ski experience in Vail as McSorley’s Old Ale House—the oldest Irish bar in New York City—is to the late-night culture of Manhattan.
Pepi’s Bar looks as fresh as it did the day it opened in December 1964, from the trophy case chronicling Pepi’s ski-racing conquests to the walls lined with framed black-and-white autographed photos of ’60s- and ’70s-vintage presidents, athletes, astronauts, and entertainers. These regulars would gather here, whenever they skied Vail, to bronze the memory of yet another unforgettable day on the mountain with chill-erasing mugs of a seasonal favorite: hot glühwein.
“When it’s really cold outside, like 10-below, and you’re freezing from head to toe, you come in here, you have a cup of the glühwein, and it warms you from the inside,” says executive chef Helmut Kaschitz, a native of Klagenfurt, Austria who on the coldest days has a vat of the traditional mulled wine (full-bodied burgundy steeped with citrus, cinnamon, and cloves and fortified with rum) on the stove in the restaurant’s kitchen. “It warms you up, but it has a little side effect, too.”
In other words, this delicious high-octane heart-warmer tends to go right to your head. Heed Kaschitz’s advice and resist the temptation to overindulge: once you’ve drained your mug, gravitate to a table in the Antlers Room, a re-creation of a hunting lodge in the Alps, where the booths are lit by hanging lanterns and, appropriately, the menu focuses on game: loin of wild Russian boar, grilled T-bone deer steak, rack of roasted Canadian caribou for two, roast duckling flambéed tableside. After finishing with Kaschitz’s apple strudel, order another cup of glühwein for the road and toast your hosts, Pepi and Sheika (who still live upstairs), for memories made. Then, bundle up and head out for a stroll along the Gore Creek promenade, where artist Paul Wertin’s dramatically lit ice sculptures warm the winter night just as the wine fortifies your soul: with a magical glow burning from within.
Pepi’s Restaurant & Bar: 231 E Gore Creek Drive, Vail Village, 970-476-4671, pepis.com