Annie Williams Pierce is quite the humble one. After she spent a week wowing the judges on her way to earning the title of Bombay Sapphire’s Most Imaginative Bartender—she was right back behind the stick at Curio at Harvest, serving up signature drinks with a smile.
Most of her customers would have no idea that she’d just gone through a whirlwind tour of London, where in addition to competing as one of only a few bartenders from around the world, she’d be asked to make drinks at historic bars in front of industry experts.
So, we’re gonna high-five the champ ourselves—since she’s unlikely to tell you that as a result of her win she’ll be the cocktail expert-in-residence for GQ and other Conde Nast publications, essentially becoming the ambassador for Columbus’s already talented drink scene.
We just started by asking her to describe her winning tour—which she’s still trying to process—in her own words.
Let us start with a fun fact: I have been a bartender for six and a half years. There are articles of clothing that have been in the back of my closet longer. (I really should donate those…)
The week I spent in London can only be described as surreal. The following are just a few examples as to why:
My husband Luke and I were the only two customers in one of the best bars in the world (literally), where they use an old school milkshake machine to mix all their “shaken” drinks. Last time I used one of those was when I was 15, working as the register and carry-out girl at Chef-O-Nette.
We had a cocktail competition in the middle of the Saatchi Gallery, one of the most prestigious modern art galleries in the world. Where we were tasked to create a cocktail in a Top Chef-style, quick-fire pantry challenge inspired by one of the pieces we saw. How do you create a cocktail inspired by a selfie? Still not 100 percent sure how I did it.
One night, a group of us made it to “last call” for The American Bar at The Savoy Hotel. We rolled in 10 minutes before close, at arguably one of the most classic and iconic bars in the world, and they served us as though it was 9 p.m. No lights were turned up on us, or music turned down. No sense that we were delaying their closing and clean up (even though we totally were and as a group of bartenders we felt horrible for it).
I worked a shift at one of the most impressive and progressive bars I have ever seen or read about, and they played old school hip-hop.
Where was I? Did Curio just teleport to London?!
I vividly remember looking out at the mass of people in the bar: reporters, global brand ambassadors, industry titans from the U.S., England, France, my fellow competitors, and believe it or not, one kid I went to college with (who happens to live in London now!) and I just became so intensely happy and proud that I get to call this “work.”
We performed our final challenge in The Connaught Bar. An absolutely stunning space that looks as though it belongs in a Humphrey Bogart movie, complete with cut glass mirrors, black and white marble, and fabulous green leather couches. The bar itself is known for its legendary Martini Cart, where they wheel a cart table side and design an extraordinary martini just for you, based on your tastes and preferences. The drink I presented that morning was a new age riff on a martini—I actually pinched myself.
The Awards Ceremony was held in The Gherkin, an all-glass skyscraper in downtown London (that resembles a giant pickle). We watched the sun set over the city from the top floor, with a 360-degree view of a city that I did not think could possibly impress me more.
And then, to top off an incredible and overwhelming week, my name followed that breath-stealing sentence: “And the winner is…”
I am still processing the week, the competition, and the win. The four challenges that were presented to us caused us all to leave everything we had on the table. They stretched the limits of our creativity, our flexibility, our knowledge, and our craft. One aspect people have pointed out or called into question since then, is my hometown. “There’s not even a notable cocktail scene in Columbus!” or, “Is there something special about Columbus that caused you to win?”
And I think there is.
We have a small, but growing community of industry professionals. Columbus is primed. We are supportive and intensely accepting. And we are thirsty. Not just for delicious cocktails (but thanks, ’cause that keeps me employed!), but for knowledge and for experiences.
I cannot wait to see how we continue to grow. I hope to see you all along the way.