It took two and a half years, but Robert Thompson, the restaurateur behind Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar, the former Argyll and Punch Bowl Social, finally got his wish: Anika Zappe, one of the most respected and high-profile bartenders in Denver, Thompson told me today, is now the beverage director for all of his properties.
"Anika and I started talking casually over two years ago, when we still had Argyll in Cherry Creek, and while the timing wasn't right then, I've known all along that she was the right person for this job -- she's a retired rocker, a great mom and a great mixologist, and she rounds out our high-level team," says Thompson, adding that his other key players are chef Sergio Romero and general manager Mike Pacovski, who will soon become the VP of operations. "I think about the Anika situation," explains Thompson, "the same way the Supreme Court describes pornography: It's hard for me to articulate what porn is, but I know it when I see it. It's hard to detail all the reasons why Anika is the perfect beverage director for me, but I knew it when I met her."
Zappe, who was the opening bar manager at Linger, quit that gig last October, the same month she had a baby, and for the past several months, she's been consulting, homesteading, teaching cocktail classes to guests of the Quintess Luxury Vacation Club and guest bartending at the Coupe Bar inside Ghost Plate & Tavern. But she and Thompson had kept in touch since they first started conversing about cocktails, and just over a month go, Zappe picked up the phone and called Thompson to check on the progress of Punch Bowl Social, which will open in July with a breakfast, lunch and dinner restaurant combined with a bowling alley, java joint and three bars; in addition, Thompson is opening a second Punch Bowl in Portland, Oregon in October and currently scouting locations to reopen Argyll.
"I wasn't really looking for a job when I called Robert -- I just wanted to know how everything was going and who he'd hired to manage the beverage program. He said that he'd hadn't filled the position yet and asked if I was interested," recalls Zappe. And this time, she was. "Punch Bowl is a super-fun, super-creative concept -- it's like the Celebrity Sports Center for adults -- and after talking with Robert, Sergio and Mike, I saw how much open-mindedness and innovation was going on here, and I really thrive in that kind of environment. It was the perfect fit."
And Zappe has big ideas for Punch Bowl Social. "I'm really looking forward to doing boozy coffee drinks in the morning, boozy adult milkshakes in the afternoon and, at night, I've got a lake-full of cocktail ideas, most of which will make use Colorado's world-class spirits," she says, revealing, too, that she'll devise some liquid culture drinking games to complement the bona fide games and amusements that Punch Bowl Social plans to make available: marbles, ping ping, video games from the '80s, a giant Jenga and private karaoke rooms -- private being the optimum word here, because, as Thompson points, out, not everyone wants to hear you yodel.
Thompson's big picture outlook for Punch Bowl extends far and wide; within the next ten years, his goal is to open ten nationwide -- and Zappe, he says, will oversee the beverage program at all of them. "Punch Bowl Social is a brand that I've conceptualized to go national, and Anika will train the staffs and concoct city-specific cocktails for each market," says Thompson. "As most people know, I don't drink, so it was vital that I hired someone I could trust implicitly to fit within the philosophy of each concept -- and Anika is that person. She has 100 percent leeway in terms of what she wants to do."
But while Zappe is coming in on the ground up of Punch Bowl Social, the wine, beer and cocktail syllabus at Le Grand, she admits, doesn't need much more than a bit of tweaking. "I'll make a few changes to the wine list and cocktail menu, but I'm not planning to do anything drastic," she says. "There are good people behind the bar here, and I want to stay open to their ideas." And starting in May, you can find Zappe behind the bar at the bistro, where, she says, she'll "get her bartending legs back in swing."
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And for his part, Thompson says that Zappe's talents can't be overstated. "She's been on my short list for a very long time, and the gravitas of her personality is the perfect personification of the culture at Punch Bowl. She epitomizes what Punch Bowl is all about -- a craft cocktail and culinary perspective combined with environmental awareness all pulled together within the modern world." says Thompson. "Anika has earned this job. She's going to thrive and really fucking dig it," he concludes.
And Zappe agrees: "The sheer level of challenge and opportunity to be so creative in the next six months to the next several years is so exciting to me, and I love the people I'm working with. It's like a band that plays beautiful music together," she says.