When Kenny Jeronimus purchased the Little Bear from Patty Mintle in 1976, he knew instantly that the now 128-year-old historic building that housed the beloved bar must also be his. This came to be when he struck a deal with The Ross Grimes Trust, who sold Kenny the historic site. Maintaining the historical integrity and historical value of “The Bear” has been a priority to Kenny from the get-go, and was soon shared by the love of his life, wife Judy, whom Kenny set his sights on at first glance when Judy came into the bar.
“My girlfriend, Lee, and I were sitting in the balcony of The Bear where the sound booth currently is, listening to music, when Kenny literally climbed up from the first floor to get to our table. “I want to get to know you” were his first words to me. Kenny owned one of the largest nurseries in Colorado. He announced, ‘I’m soon leaving for the Bahamas, but I want to take you out as soon as I return.’ It was easy to fall in love with Kenny, and we married in 1982.”
Together, Kenny and Judy have maintained Little Bear’s history, heritage, and old-fashioned ambiance. Judy says, “It was Kenny who created the treasured boardwalk that stretches from Little Bear all the way down to Kiki’s Fresh Bowls. Kenny wanted to replace the cement sidewalk so those who had one too many and were kicked out of the bar didn’t get hurt on the cement. Kenny enhanced the appearance of the boardwalk by adding planters, flower boxes, and installed the stairs that descend from the boardwalk to the street. He also added sprinkler systems, an additional fire escape, and ensured bathrooms were handicap accessible. When we enlarged the dining area, Kenny created the horseshoe shaped bar, and we added booths that we purchased from a bar on Larimer Square. Kenny also removed the roof, brought in a crane, relocated the sound booth above the dance floor, and lowered the historic stagecoach that now sits in The Bear’s loft.”
Because of Judy’s love for music, especially western music, Kenny and Judy broadened the bar’s musical venue. “The Bear didn’t have a sound system when Kenny purchased it. We were the second bar in the Denver area to install a sound system. The other bar was located on Hampden Avenue in Denver,” Judy explains. From the early ’80s through the 1990s, Judy took it upon herself to secure first-rate acts that included Arlo Guthrie, Christopher Cross, Sammy Kershaw, Leon Russell, Hank Williams Jr., Marty Stewart, BJ Thomas, Bo Diddley, Johnny Clyde Copeland, Chubby Checkers, Stephen Stills, Delbert McClinton, Waylon Jennings, Timothy P. & Rural Route 3, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, John Prine, The Brooks Brothers, Mason Williams, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, Firefall, Dave Mason, the unforgettable Starlight Ramblers, Maria Muldaur, The Fray, Michael Martin Murphy, and John McEuen to name a few.
Judy recalls, “A few of our audience guests have included Willie Nelson, Johnny Depp, Meg Ryan, Kiefer Sutherland, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Neil Young of Crosby Stills, Nash & Young, and John Elway. In our early days, bands didn’t have fancy buses with beds, so they stayed in hotels. Kenny and I purchased several houses in Evergreen to lodge the bands and a few of The Bears’ famous guests.”
In recent years, talented offspring from stars who once played at Little Bear now take the stage and include Willie Nelson’s daughter, Paula, who grew up in Evergreen, Delbert McClinton’s son, Clay, Johnny Clyde Copeland’s daughter Shemekia, Hank Williams Jr.’s son Hank Williams III, and Waylon Jennings’ son, Shooter.
What can’t be missed as soon as you enter the Little Bear is the collection of bras hanging high on steel pipes suspended perhaps 20 feet above the stage. Who started the trend? “Timothy P. & Rural Route 3,” Judy reveals. “They played Little Bear back in the ’80s and Timothy P. begged the ladies in the audience to remove their tops and he would give them free t-shirts. The girls took Timothy P’s dare a step further and threw both their shirts and their bras on stage. It was Kenny’s idea to put the bar up to give them something to aim at instead of the band.”
Asking Judy if any performer ever requested the bras be removed, she replies, “Yes, one, but I’ll keep that a secret. Christopher Cross was the only performer who requested we cover the old mirror behind the stage. Kenny bought a black sheet and hung it up for him, but we never knew the reason he wanted it covered.”
Of odd acts who graced Little Bear, Judy shares, “Several years ago, Evergreen Rodeo booked a guy who had a buffalo act. Wearing a bright multicolored shirt, the cowboy pranced his buffalo around the rodeo arena and somehow decided to bring both the buffalo and his act into The Bear. Using the handicapped ramp, the cowboy and buffalo made their way through the once hanging swinging barroom doors and in they came. It definitely was a sight to see.”
Little Bear is a renowned destination site, especially for bikers throughout America and beyond. Judy reveals, “A couple from Cape Town, South Africa were touring the U.S. on motorcycles and told us The Bear was their No. 1 destination. A group of approximately 30 to 35 bikers from Germany rented motorcycles and we were thrilled they stopped at Little Bear. Their presence made downtown parking a premium, but no one complained.” She adds, “Many of our patrons have also met their future wives or husbands at The Bear and to date, we’ve hosted six weddings.”
The Bear is also renowned for hosting a Halloween party like no other, with the patron wearing the best costume winning a six days, six nights getaway. The Bear also hosts a once a month church service known as the Bar Church, lead by Pastor Ed Shirley, who maintains, “We want to let people know that God is good and loves people.”
The heartbeat of Little Bear’s magical ambiance continues to draw the locals as well as international visitors year-round, a mission Judy and Kenny Jeronimus continue to cultivate due to their love and devotion to the history of Evergreen. “It’s a challenge to keep Little Bear’s 128-year-old building functioning, but Kenny and I are devoted to preserving the historical integrity of the building as well as the bar,” claims Judy, who is related to Darst E. Buchanan, who purchased the bar then known as “The Round Up” in the late 1930s. “I truly believe life comes full circle,” Judy proclaims, and The Little Bear proves it because we all treasure its rich history and stately presence. Downtown Evergreen wouldn’t be the same without The Little Bear.