"Something is going on at Coohills — they just got an Old Major-caliber/style bar team," an industry insider remarked as news came in that of Anika Zappe, formerly of Punch Bowl Social and Le Grand Bistro, and Brian Smith, formerly of Pinche Tacos, joined the French eatery's team. The LoDo restaurant hired sommelier Jonathan Greschler, formerly of Old Major, at the end of May and bar manager Noah Heaney, previously at Harold's and the Bayonet Room, just a couple of weeks ago. And then came on board Zappe and Smith creating a strong beverage team that has the potential to raise the wine and spirits profile of this restaurant.
Was there a grand vision behind creating this team? Any strategic master plan to bring more talent to the bar area and attract a different clientele? Not exactly. The foursome was created organically through both happenstance and previous relationships, but owners Tom and Diane Coohill undoubtedly saw the potential of bringing in experienced professionals.
"I came to Coohills because, one, they were crazy and willing to take a chance on me, and two, Coohills is a great restaurant. Tom and Diane are dedicated owners, I love the awesome patio that seats a legit 50 people, and the staff is willing to put in the work to make it great: you don't run into this stuff all the time," says Jonathan Greschler who serves as sommelier and manager at Coohills after a rocky departure from Old Major. "For the bar, we wanted a strong personality to lead the staff and design a menu that resonated with people. I reached out to Sean Kenyon — mayor of the Denver bar scene — to see who might be looking to take on a big project," Greschler continues. "Sean got me in touch with Noah Heaney, who has been amazing. This guy is a truck — all work ethic and a real idea of what is correct and what isn't. Let's just say that the people joining us, Anika and Brian in the bar, and some service industry veterans on the floor, along with committed owners, makes for a powerful team."
For Noah Heaney, who has served as Big Red F's beverage purchasing agent and bartender at Boulder's Bitter Bar, the timing was right. His consulting contract in Longmont at Harold's and the Bayonet Room was up and he was ready to be back in Denver. So, just like Greschler, Heaney called Sean Kenyon too and the connection was made. " Jonathan and I have known each other, professionally, for a few years and I've always been blown away by his stage presence and knowledge of wine and service. We met for a beer and realized very quickly it would be a good fit," Heaney remembers. And so he came on board.
"Some of the bar staff were leaving, either on extended vacation, or to pursue new interests," Heaney comments. "I mentioned at a Colorado Bartenders Guild officer meeting that I was looking for some part-time and full-time help and Anika gave me a nod. Are you kidding me?! Anika and I get to work together? F'n sweet. About two days later Brian Smith called Jon and mentioned he was interested in coming on board," he adds.
Anika Zappe recently left her position at Punch Bowl Social to spend more time with her family, but she was looking for a way to remain active in the bartending scene. "I knew Noah would be doing great things at Coohills," Zappe confesses. "And there's the added bonus of working with Brian and Jon. I'm happy to be in a place where I can continue to learn from some great people. The food at Coohills is amazing and I'm really looking forward to creating some drinks with the wonderful herb garden on site — totally up my alley," she adds.
"For me, the gears started turning toward Coohills when Jonathan asked me in passing after a Denver FIVE meeting if I knew anybody solid looking to get involved in flipping a bar program at his new gig," Brian Smith remembers. "I cut my teeth in this industry through wine and I loved the geeky but approachable wine lists at both Wild Catch and Fuel Cafe when Jon was there," he continues. "Jonathan asked if I knew Noah Heaney. Truth be told, I really got interested at that point. From the time my friend Laura Shunk first walked me through that back door of the Happy Noodle House, I was a Bitter Bar groupie. I was nervous when Noah first sat at the bar at Pinche because to me he ranks among the pantheon of bartenders in this state who blazed the trail for people like me," he adds.
The plan for the beverage program at Coohills under the new staff format is simple: adjust to each other, go back to basics, then raise the bar with a new cocktail menu, wine list. and other things like ice-making, cocktail classes, and more. "One month after this program starts, and everyone is moving in harmony behind the bar, then the big cocktail, beer and wine program will drop," Heaney shares. "Crazy ice production, delicious stirred and shaken cocktails, proper technique and amazing customer service," he concludes.
· Noah Heaney Starts Work at Coohills, Anika Zappe Leaves Punch Bowl [EDen]
· Jonathan Greschler, Former GM at Old Major, Lands Job at Coohills [EDen]
· Old Major Front of the House Shuffle: Some Leave, Attardi Joins the Team [EDen]