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Little Annie’s stays open… for now

Elise Thatcher

Little Annie’s lives again. Aspen’s long suffering affordable eatery was supposed to close next week. But it turns out Little Annie’s can stay open. Aspen Public Radio’s Elise Thatcher has the story.

It’s happy hour, Kevin Freitas is sitting at the bar, giving the bartenders a hard time. All in good fun, of course.


“We’ve had a lot of closures in the last couple of years,” says Freitas. “Every day that Little Annie’s is open is not just good for the community, but for the hard working people that make this community survive.”

Freitas explains how fellow patrons make this place feel special— aside from the bartenders, Ricky and Tyree. There’s a camaraderie, which he calls “the whole essence of Little Annie’s. When you walk through the doors you feel it.”

Rohn Fleming owns and runs the restaurant, which is more than forty years old. He’s also in his element here, with a signature black cowboy hat on, and a sparkle in his eye as he surveys the bar. Fleming describes the busy early evening as typical of Annie’s, and points out he knows all the folks at the bar. He’s beaming underneath his bushy mustache, especially when asked how long the eatery can stay open. At this point the plan is “summer, and we’re talking about the winter.”

This uncertainty is deja vu all over again. Little Annie’s has been really struggling in the last few years. A former owner didn’t pay state and local taxes, so the eatery closed. The building owners bought back the business, including its contents, in a state auction. It reopened with Fleming at the helm, but then closed last fall because of financial and logistical problems. Annie’s again reopened, this time for this winter, but some of the same hurdles remained.

Credit Elise Thatcher
Kevin Freitas and friend Howie take a quick moment away from happy hour at Little Annie's.

“There was an issue with the back of the building, and we’d lost my beer cooler and my freezer, and all that stuff and I thought it was the end of Annie’s,” says Fleming. A new transformer was needed for a building being constructed next door. It’s where those things had been before. Turned out, there was more room with the transformer than Fleming had thought, so at least the beer could still be stored in that spot. Purveyor Reddy Ice is lending Fleming a freezer, and the owners of the building found a parking spot for it, across the alley. Fleming looks relieved about the situation.

“It was very gratifying, I think for all of us,” he says, “to figure out to put this all back together, so we could reopen.”

At the far end of the bar, Ben May and a friend are settled in. The friend calls himself Gwendolyn the third, “from Castle Loch Harbor, and the Highlands." He also goes by Gary Murphy. Murphy and May have high praise for Little Annie’s, especially about how the eatery is friendly to blue collar workers, tourists, and anyone else.

“Doesn’t matter who you are... if you look around the bar right now, nobody really cares what they look like. You’re looking at me [and] laughing because I don’t have any clothes on,” Murphy jokes, then getting serious. “We don’t dress in fancy jeans, we are who we are."

The shot special here is one of the hallmarks of this bar. That’s a beer and a shot for four and a half dollars. Ben May says it helps bring people in the door— but there’s another big draw: “it’s a good place for locals and there’s very few of those left, really. Let’s face it."


In fact, when Little Annie’s closed last fall, these two regulars ended up having cookouts at each other’s houses, instead of going to other bars.


Ultimately, the owners of the Little Annie’s building want to put in another restaurant, which means its just a matter of time before this long running institution will truly close. That makes May frustrated. "I just don’t see the sense in it not staying open,” he furrows his brow. “Locals like it, tourists like it. Everybody likes it."


Owner Rohn Fleming is diplomatic about the situation, praising Andy and Nikos Hecht, the father and son duo who own the building.  “If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here today,” he says. “They’ve been very tolerant with [Little Annie’s]...letting us keep going on and on and on."


For now that means at least through the summer, and maybe next winter.