Anika Zappe: I'd like to see more crafted cocktails in average-Joe places

In this interview, Anika Zappe, newly appointed beverage director for Le Grand Bistro & Oyster Bar and the upcoming Punch Bowl, weighs in on transitioning from beer-and-shot bars to craft cocktails, the drink that's brilliant unless the limes suck, and her most memorable night while managing a punk-rock bar.

Westword: How long have you been a bartender? What made you get into the profession? Anika Zappe: I started bartending as a guest bartender at the P.S. Lounge something like seventeen years ago. I was playing in bands then, and I thought I would lie about my bartending experience to get a job. I looked in the paper, Pete was hiring, and I didn't have to lie. He just gave me job. It was a dive bar -- I poured beer and shots for a very long time. After that, I bopped around all over. I worked for Pete off and on for twelve years, and I'll always have kind of a soft spot in my heart for the P.S. Lounge. I worked at the 15th Street Tavern, the big famous punk-rock bar downtown, and I managed that for a while. I went to Lannie's Clocktower Cabaret and worked there for about a year.

When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband told me to take the time to relax and think about the kind of work I wanted to do. When I thought about it, I wanted to be a bartender. I had been in a band traveling and having great drinks around the world. I wanted to bring that to Denver. So I started doing it again and finding like-minded people.

Pete gave me the space across the street from the P.S. Lounge, the P.S. 1515. We were open three nights a week, and we did crafted cocktails and burlesque on the weekends. Then I went to Jonesy's. I was really happy there, and I didn't think I was looking for a job, but I was online looking for other people and came across Root Down, where I worked until last fall.

I got involved with the Colorado Bartenders Guild because a lot of the guys that I met invited me to become the treasurer of the guild shortly after it started. Treasurer is one of those positions that's a pain in the butt to change around, and every time another position has opened, I've decided to stay the treasurer. In this most recent election, I saw an opportunity to be someone who could help with the transition and segue. I really like being an officer, so I ran again with everyone else (my opponent moved to San Diego, though, so I would have been offended if I didn't win).

I'm also involved in the new service industry chapter of LUPEC -- I'm not an officer there, because I wanted to be able to pull back if I needed to. It's a cool group of women, which was a big motivator. I get to hang around all of these broads that I love. They have this philanthropic side. LUPEC does good work besides uniting a lot of female bartenders, and it unites not just the craft bartenders.

I'm about to start learning my way around Le Grand, and I'll probably be starting bar shifts in May. When the Punch Bowl gets ready to open in the summer time, that's when those responsibilities will start kicking into gear. I'm so excited about the concept, so I feel like I'm off and running already.

Bartending rule to live by: It's always guests first. I think it's important to be able to converse with your guest on a wide variety of topics, and it's important to be able to do that and be able to keep an eye on your bar at the same time. I've always had challenges with that, but if we're talking a rule, that's the one I live by.

Five words to describe your drink list: Innovative, balanced, textured, fresh and seasonal. Favorite drink on your list and why: That's a tough one because I'm in between places.

How about a favorite drink to make yourself? Caipirinha. And everywhere I go in town, I'll be pouring Boca Loca. It's an amazing spirit, especially considering what you can buy a bottle for. And the caipirinha is a brilliant drink. Muddle up some lime and sugar, and with Boca Loca, it's beautiful every time. Unless your limes suck.

Favorite item on your back bar: Probably some of the Leopold's Liqueurs. They make such delicious things, and I end up going to them a lot, especially when I'm doing bartender's choice. I think they're awesome.

Craziest night behind the stick: On what was probably my favorite night tending bar at the punk-rock bar, Queens of the Stone Age played, and they were probably too big to be playing that bar. My friend Angie was friends with them, and Josh [Homme] came behind the bar and made drinks for everyone. It was one of my most fun nights from back in the day. Tending bar with Josh from Queens of the Stone Age.

Favorite Denver venue for a drink that's not your own and what you order when you're there: 3 Kings Tavern. It's on my side of town, I love those guys, and it's not a fine cocktail bar or anything. I'm a firm believer in situational drinking -- you don't go to Three Kings and order a craft cocktail. You have a beer and a shot of whiskey. You keep it simple. You go to Linger, Le Grand or Colt & Gray for a cocktail.

What's next for the Denver bartending scene? I'd hope to be able to order more crafted cocktails in a lot of places soon. Maybe I'm kind of working for that. It's exploding. There are a number of craft people learning to do this and make good drinks, or at the very least replicate classics. We're already seeing places like the Goosetown offer more crafted cocktails -- I think we're going to see more average-Joe kinds of places sprucing up the lists.

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