Hooch remains in local hands after owner sells

The interior of the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in downtown Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

In an evolving food and beverage scene in downtown Aspen, one locally owned bar will remain locally owned.

On Tuesday, Pat Flannigan and Quinn Gallagher got one step closer to an owner partnership at the bar they have run together for the past six years. The city approved the transfer of the tavern liquor license to Infinite Hooch Aspen LLC, a subsidiary of the business partnership between local hospitality group Infinite Hospitality and Flannigan.

The application will now go to the state for approval. And once the state issues the Colorado license, the city of Aspen will also issue the liquor license in their name.

“We’ve lived and breathed the place for six years already. And we just happened to be lucky enough to have an owner, the previous owner Wendy (Mitchell), that appreciated that effort and kind of gave us an awesome opportunity to continue what we’re already doing but with with our names on it. So it’s a really good feeling,” said Gallagher. “There’s this feeling of responsibility and a little bit of anxiety. But for the most part, we’re really excited about it.”

Flannigan and Gallagher both joined the Hooch team when the bar opened in April 2016. They served as bar managers until former general manager Lindze Letherman left in the fall of 2021. After that, they both assumed a GM-type role.

Their long history with the bar made them the obvious choice for former owner Mitchell, who also owns Meat & Cheese Restaurant and Farm Shop, when she decided she was ready to sell.

“I think I’ve always been open to the idea that those guys do all the work, and I’m super happy to have two guys that want to keep a local place local,” she said.

While Meat & Cheese and Hooch are no longer under the same ownership, everyone involved said they will maintain a familial relationship. The two establishments share a building and are located on different floors.

“I don’t have Wendy as a boss anymore, but I have her as a friend and a mentor,” Flannigan said.

Mitchell said she decided to sell because she was in a different phase of her life and felt it would be easier to let the guys already running the place take over ownership.

“Both my kids are in college, so I’m an empty-nester. So I’ll have more time to travel and I’d just like to make my life easier,” said Mitchell.

The former co-bar managers turned co-owners officially bought craft cocktail bar Hooch from Mitchell on Nov. 1 after months of separating the business from parent company Avalanche Cheese.

Between the two of them, Flannigan and Gallagher have decades of food and beverage experience. Owning Hooch will be Flannigan’s first foray into ownership, while Gallagher has owned establishments before. But, this will be his first role in as an owner in nearly a decade, he said.

They both intend to maintain the rustic, unpretentious character for which Hooch is known going into the future.

“Anyone can come in here and they can spend $1,000 on a pour, or they can get a beer and a shot and be happy,” said Flannigan. “You walk in and we’re blaring hip hop (and) there’s bras on the chandeliers.”

The locals bar is a dying breed in downtown Aspen, but Flannigan and Gallagher hope to hold onto that spirit at Hooch.

The interior of the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, in downtown Aspen. (Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times)
Austin Colbert/The Aspen Times

“Some would call it this ‘old school Aspen’ where, you know, the locals can kind of rub elbows with people that are a little bit more affluent. And we’ve been successful, really kind of walking that line where everybody feels comfortable coming in here,” he said.

Jeff Bezos and Tina Turner are just a couple of the celebrities whom they say have visited Hooch for a drink.

Many of the cocktails on the menu are creations of Flannigan or Gallagher and the decorations and furniture were all thrifted by Mitchell’s interior designer friend, they said. The collection of “creepy paintings,” as Flannigan called them, are there to stay.

The limited food menu, which is required by Colorado law for bars, might change some. And they both want to make the space even more welcoming for locals. Hiring local DJs, hosting art pop-ups and including a locals’ discount in their new POS system are all part of that plan.

“It already is slowly becoming a staple in town, even after such a short period of time, but we want to continue to see it (grow) for decades,” said Gallagher.

Correction: The original article stated that Infinite Hooch Aspen LLC was a partnership between Flannigan and Gallagher. It is a subsidiary of the partnership between Infinite Hospitality and Flannigan. The article has been changed to reflect that update.