Behind the bar at Root Down with Anika Zappe
Anika Zappe is on a tear. Yes, she still has her band, Hemi Cuda, although its last show is coming sometime this year. "Had to make more time for cocktology," she says. Zappe has been Root Down's bar manager since the restaurant opened in December 2008, and the bar is doing great business. So is Zappe: After winning the regional Bombay Sapphire competition, she competed for the national title in Las Vegas last weekend. While she didn't win, her creative cocktails emphasizing fresh, quality ingredients still did Colorado proud.
Now serving: Anika Zappe, mixologist at Root Down.
How did you get into bartending? Originally it was a way to support myself while spending all my time and money being in bands: The Hectics, The Superbees and Hemi Cuda. Occasionally I would go do something else, but I always came back to bartending. It was beers and shots for many years at the PS Lounge and rock and roll at the 15th St. Tavern before I realized I could combine my love of foodie things with drink.
How do you feel about cutting people off? I'm fine with it. It's part of the job. I have a plethora of ways in which to do that.
What's your worst cutting-someone-off story? A bachelorette party, believe it or not. Most people who've been to the PS know that Pete is very generous, especially to ladies who are celebrating; everyone gets a rose and a "house" shot, etc. We even bought them some beers. These "ladies" weren't satisfied with that and were hitting up our nice regulars to buy drinks in a very aggressive manner, which was obviously making a few people uncomfortable. Not to mention that their volume level was by far exceeding Pete's acceptable limits. I found the maid of "honor" and said, "We want you to have a great time while you're here, but please just keep your volume down a notch so as not to disturb the other guests." She seemed fine until I got back behind the bar and she started talking loudly about what a "'C' you next Tuesday" I was. I grabbed up the beers and told them to move the party elsewhere. These girls decided they weren't going anywhere! I pretended to call the police while they scurried out the door shouting curses and threats, calling me "stupid b%$#h." "Whatever,'" I said. "You're the one getting married."
How many times do you have to see someone at Root Down to consider them a regular? Every other week.
If your employer gave you the keys and let you change anything about your bar, what would you do? I'd probably bring in the dancing girls and mess the whole place up. My boss is already very open and receptive to changes I want to make (dancing girls aside).
What do customers do that pisses you off? Shout orders while I'm taking care of another guest. It's a certain type of person that does this, and they don't know that they do because they don't care.
What is your favorite drink to make? It's hard to pick just one. I think it's that drink that happens when you read your customer and they love it. One drink that many people react to that way is the Pepper Blossom. It's been on our menu for a while now; I'm afraid to take it off.
What is your least favorite drink to make? Hmmm. Jäger bombs.
What's the weirdest drink someone has ever asked you to make? When I started bartending at the PS, the old guys would teach me "classics." Some of the "classics" were from the '70s. I think drinks like Grasshoppers are really weird.
What's your favorite alcohol? I like them all, but if I were to drink one straight, it would be Scotch.
What's your drink of choice? Ha! Oftentimes, wine or beer. At Root Down, I love the Strawberry Rhubarb caipirinha. It's reaching the end of the season for that drink, though, so it will change soon to something for fall/winter. I have really been enjoying mixing with cachaca lately. I think we'll be seeing more of that spirit.
One alcohol you despise: The overpriced, bright blue cognac "infused" vodka caca.
Other than your co-workers, who's the best bartender in Denver? Sean Kenyon [at Steuben's] is a very passionate and knowledgeable bartender, and I sit across his bar as often as I can to taste his creations. Mike Henderson at TAG will make you some really great, "on the fly" cocktails, off the list, that are a testament to his ability and know-how. It's hard to pick just one because Denver has so much happening now. I think Adam Hodak (at Osteria Marco) and Jared Boller (at TAG) are very talented, also. Ky Belk (Elway's) is like the godfather of the Denver cocktail scene. Other than your own, what's the best bar in Denver? 3 Kings: You can take the girl out of rock and roll but you can't...
What do you think of bartending school? A waste of time. Get your foot in the door somewhere and work your way up. No amount of school replaces real-life learning with this job.
What would you tell someone who wanted to get into bartending? Same as above. Find a bar/bartender you like and wriggle your way in there. Taste everything you can as often as you can, and learn about how flavors interact.
Bartending competitions. Love them? Hate them? Love them! Are you kidding? I live for that stuff. I think it's fun to compete. Along with the fun of winning, I've learned to take the failures in stride. I love being able to see another bartender's creative thought process. I'm always surprised at how my opinions differ from the judges'.
What do you do in your spare time? What's that? Just kidding. At this point in my life, I like to garden and cook at home, play with my son, Trigger, and just basically try to be domestic.
Tell us one thing about tending bar that we might not know: It's a very physical job. Dirty jokes with your co-workers are a necessity to get through the shift. Actually, they're a requirement. Betcha didn't know that!
Get the Dining Newsletter
The week's top local food news and events, plus interviews with chefs and restaurant owners, dining tips, and a peek at our print review.