A force in the Seattle drinking scene, Anu Apte-Elford describes herself as the CEO—“Chief Everything Officer”—for hospitality collective Canoe Ventures. Starting with flagship Rob Roy, now a Belltown cocktail institution, Canoe’s roster has grown to include the craft beer bar No Anchor, the tiki-centric Navy Strength and The Bar Bazaar, a cocktail supply shop near Pike Place Market.
A native of Layton, Utah, just north of Salt Lake City, Apte-Elford didn’t always have her sights set on becoming one of the premier cocktail voices in the Pacific Northwest. Having completed her medical-focused undergraduate studies at the University of Utah, she first visited Washington in 2004 to research graduate programs—and it wasn’t long before she decided to settle there. In subsequent years, she’d meet and marry her business partner and husband, Chris Elford, with whom she runs Canoe. “He’s one of the most creative minds in the business, and we share a lot of strengths when it comes to running bars,” says Apte-Elford, who also moonlights as a traveling beverage program consultant and guest bartender. “We divide and conquer.”
Apte-Elford takes on our Lookbook Questionnaire with equal aplomb, getting candid about the lost art of listening, Tales of the Cocktail hangover prevention and double-fisting slices of pie. —Drew Lazor
CEO (aka Chief Everything Officer) for Canoe Ventures: Rob Roy, No Anchor, Navy Strength, Navy Strength Coffee + Juice and The Bar Bazaar.
What do want to be when you grow up?
An elephant refuge volunteer anywhere in the world, but in India would be super cool.
Best thing you ever drank:
I have two answers here: 1. An ice-cold Gatorade after a Tales of the Cocktail bender. 2. A Hispaniola Buccaneer—Clairin Sajous, coffee, eau de vie, PX, verjus, Bittermens tiki bitters—at Beckett’s Kopf. It was an incredible mix of spirits served over a large clear cube in a DOF glass. No garnish. Elegant and perfect.
Worst thing you ever drank:
I have two answers here again: 1. A New Orleans room-temp (aka hot) Gatorade after a Tales of the Cocktail bender. 2. I was at a fancy, award-winning cocktail bar and was served a drink with one of those metal spoon straws. My first sip yielded a chunky goop surprise in my mouth.
First time you ever got drunk:
After a long holiday shift at the Gap, a bunch of coworkers convinced me to throw a party at my apartment. The denim expert brought a plastic handle of Montezuma tequila and some limes. I was 19 or 20. That night I learned not to vomit in mixing bowls because it just flies right out the other side.
If you had to listen to one album on loop, for the rest of your life, what would it be?
This is an impossible question.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had?
Crocheting. I was eight years old and obsessed.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago?
Even when I thought I was listening to people, I wasn’t really listening to people. I just didn’t know how. I know how to better listen now [and] it’s helped me be a better person. Just imagine what I might be doing now had I listened a little better instead of being stubborn and arrogant.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted:
Playing around with gunpowder blends for the Gunpowder Punch at Rob Roy.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making?
Hot yoga and playing with my dog, Willett.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten:
“Shit on the Grass.” The guy who ordered it didn’t know what was in it, only that it was a shot. So I layered a shot glass with brown crème de cacao and green crème de menthe.
Your favorite bar, and why:
Obviously biased, [but] Rob Roy. That bar has changed my life. Beyond that, I’d have to say Zig Zag [Café] because it’s where I had my first classic cocktail and was immediately hooked. Honestly, I don’t go out much these days and when I do I like to try new places.
Best meal you’ve ever had:
The dinner on my wedding night. Chef Ashley Morford-Haines cooked a family-style feast for us and our 200 guests. She made pani puri, my favorite Indian street food, for the cocktail hour. My husband Chris grew up in the South, so she roasted a pig in a Caja China, made collard greens, cornbread, pots full of pickles. I can’t even remember it all. There was so much beautiful food. My friend Monica Buntha hooked us up with pies for dessert. There is a funny photo of Chris holding two slices of peanut pie, one in each hand, no plates, while on the dance floor.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar?
Something off their menu.
I’ll ask what’s funky and natural.
In a dive bar?
Dive bars often have hidden treasures for great prices. I’ll scan the back bar real quick for a whisky gem or a dusty bottle of Chartreuse.
Your preferred hangover recovery regime:
Wake up and chug a whole bottle of Gatorade with 800 milligrams of ibuprofen, and then try to sleep for at least one hour more. If I’m around a warm body of salt water, I will jump right in.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever:
Hard to say. There is a place and time for everything.
The last text message you sent:
To my husband Chris: “I’ll have lots of room in my bag if you wanna stuff some loonies in too” Chris: “What do you mean loonies?!” Me: “Hahaha. *Koozies.”