Somewhere Tommy Korchowsky is smiling, and as always, his friends are smiling with him.
When the next top-down day comes around in the Vail Valley, you’ll find Liz Davis behind the wheel of her Mercedes convertible that her friend Korchowsky sold her. The wind in her hair and the warm Colorado sun in her face are bittersweet, as the leather seat does its best to comfort her like her friend Korchowsky’s warm embrace once could. It was Korchowsky’s car when they first met. Davis had long coveted it and one of Korchowsky’s last acts in Vail was to sell it to her.
It put a smile on both their faces. Korchowsky was like that.
Korchowsky and King
Korchowsky came to Vail in the 1970s. J.K. King moved to town in 1976 and met Korchowsky as their orbits and antics intersected in various Vail libation locations. They spent the 1980-81 winter figuring out how to get the lease on the Vail Golf Club restaurant. Luck was with the pair from the start and they hired talented young chef Dennis Corwin, King said.
Korchowsky started the Vail Golf Course sleigh ride to give people a reason to come to their out-of-the-way restaurant. Roger Tilkemeier ran the sleigh rides for the first few years before Steve Jones took it over. And the people came … King started making Caesar salads tableside; Korchowsky soon took that over because he loved to talk with people, King said.
About the same time they took over the golf course restaurant, they also launched Vail’s legendary and infamous No Name Golf Tournament. Vail’s charity golf tournament had morphed into the Jerry Ford Invitational, a star-studded annual event. Korchowsky and King wanted a tournament for the rest of us. They didn’t have a celebrity to name it after, so they dubbed it the No Name. The name stuck for the two decades they ran it.
Registration included a case of beer on each golf cart, one of many reasons no one was trusted to keep their own score. When the scores came in, they wrote the numbers on a huge scoreboard. No names, just the numbers.
“Hey, it was the No Name, after all,” King said. “Tommy made sure everyone had as much fun as he did. He enjoyed being the life of the party.“
Vail hasn’t seen many golf tournaments or even parties that could compare with fun had during the annual tournament. After the No Name faded, Korchowsky took his knowledge of golf tournaments and charities and became involved with the Salvation Army, getting their Red Kettle Golf Tournament off the ground.
“His goodness was real and stuck with you. Everyone who ever met Tommy, if his name came up a week later or 10 years later, they’d remember him. You’d meet him once and you’d never forget him,” King said.
Korchowsky was a partner in some popular local restaurants/bars over the years, including The Slope and Baxter’s in Vail. And while Vail loves its visitors, Korchowsky’s Pasta Palace restaurant in Minturn saw lots of locals land there because “sometimes you can get too much of a good thing,” said Vail legend Packy Walker.
Korchowsky’s and Walker’s alliance actually won them a chili cook-off in Minturn that qualified them for a national event in California. They entered as the Toxic Shock Chili Company. Alas, though, they suffered something like short-term memory loss and left their chili ingredients at the hotel an hour from where the competition was held. They cobbled together a batch using stuff borrowed from other contestants. They didn’t win a national title, but they had more fun than anyone there.
Declogging lives and drains
Korchowsky saw opportunity where other people saw a mess. He migrated away from the bar business and its clogged sinks, bought a used van and some second-hand equipment and found himself behind the bars again as proprietor of Vail Drain Service. Residential services were also offered and rudeness cost extra. He raised his rates if you were being a jerk. Legend has it that he took longer to clear drains in Vail Valley starter castles than in his friends’ proletariat townhomes and hovels.
You were his friend first
Longtime local Steve Miller arrived Vail in 1972 as assistant manager of the Holiday Inn. He and Korchowsky met in several of the local haunts.
“I was drawn to him because he was honest,” Miller said. “He earned a certain level of respect because he was that honest, and that hard-working, and more importantly, was always friendly. He made an effort. He always wanted to know what was going on with you. He was a person I could count on. I never expected anything from him, and didn’t ask, but he was always the ace up my sleeve, just in case,” Miller said.
Miller watched as Korchowsky quietly cried when his old friend Dan Mulroney died, as friends gathered to pour Mulroney’s ashes into Gore Creek.
“He was your friend before you were his friend,” Miller said. “Tommy was one of the quiet treasures of Vail, whether he was in a coat and tie, in a Hawaiian shirt and shorts, behind the bar raising money for someone who needed it,” Miller said.
Tommy and Gerald
Korchowsky spotted Davis at an Arrowhead neighborhood party in the summer of 2003, when Davis’ 15-year marriage was crashing down in a storm of acrimony. She needed a friend, and Korchowsky became a close one. For the next year, every Friday or Saturday they went somewhere for a meeting of their hearts and minds. It was exactly what they both needed, Davis said, and the solid foundation for a lasting friendship and periodic get-togethers over the years.
Korchowsky and Gerald Gallegos had been friends for decades, but had a falling out as friends sometimes will. During one of their regular meet-ups, Korchowsky and Davis saw Gerald at Sato’s bar, and Korchowsky grumbled about Gerald, who was sitting alone. Gallegos was valiantly fighting cancer, but cancer would maintain its undefeated streak. Korchowsky didn’t want to talk to him, but Davis continued to be encouraging.
“If you knew Tommy, you knew of his stubborn nature. I stooped to reminding him of the deep family relationship he had once had with the Gallegos family, including Gerald’s mother, who treated Tommy like a son,” Davis said. “That winning chili recipe was due in part to Gerald’s mother’s shared family recipe for pork green chili.”
As Davis and Korchowsky were leaving, Gallegos was still alone at the bar. Davis asked Korchowsky one last time to go speak with his friend. He did. The reunion was moving, Davis said.
“From a distance, I watched as they talked, laughed and embraced,” Davis said. “As we left, Tommy thanked me for making him stop and talk to Gerald,” Davis said.
Gallegos died within the month.
“My years in Colorado were better years because of Tommy. His heart was pure gold; one of a kind,” Davis said.
Thomas Michael Korchowsky left Vail in 2012, migrating back to his native Michigan. He died in his home January 27, 2021 from what friends said was complications from diabetes. His funeral in Michigan was Friday, Feb. 5. He was 76. Plans for a Vail memorial are being finalized.
— to www.vaildaily.com