Catching up with the 'most imaginative bartender' in North America

Back in August, Curio bartender Annie Williams Pierce became the first woman to win the United States Bartenders' Guild's Most Imaginative Bartender Competition. It was a milestone for the 11-year-old event, other women in the food and beverage industry, and for Williams Pierce, who was once denied a bartending position at a sports bar in Chicago.

“The managers there, they wouldn't let me bartend because they said I wasn't hot enough,” said Williams Pierce, who grew up in Upper Arlington and studied political science and international law at Loyola University Chicago. “That's a huge part of what we still face as women in the industry … because it is so outward-facing.”

“I love being able to diversify that winning pool [and] to be a person [who] … someone else coming up through the competition can relate to,” she continued. “I think that's instrumental in getting women involved, especially in these higher-level competitions.”

Williams Pierce advanced to the finals in London to compete against 11 other bartenders from the U.S. and Canada. It was her seventh time participating in the competition; she made it to the finals in 2013 and 2014, and in 2015 she lost the regional battle to her current boss, Curio owner Travis Owens. Williams Pierce returned as a judge last year — when Watershed Kitchen & Bar manager Alex Chien made it to the finals — because the grueling competition schedule would have interfered with her wedding.

That previous experience suited Williams Pierce well through four intense rounds in London, which culminated with a “final cocktail showcase,” which required the contestants to create a drink using Bombay Sapphire Gin. Pierce made the snap peas-infused London x Tokyo, inspired by her honeymoon in Japan.

“We had these decadent, 16-course sushi [and] sashimi meals,” said Williams Pierce, who wanted to design something “to match these soft, delicate, floral, green [and] crisp flavors.”

Williams Pierce has been specializing in a flavor-focused approach to drink-making since she helped build the Brothers Drake Meadery cocktail program in 2011. “I started making liqueurs and cordials in the production facility,” she said.

After stints at The Crest in Clintonville and The Sycamore, Williams Pierce was hired at Curio, where she has been working since returning from London. She has also visited New York as GQ magazine's Bartender in Residence — another perk of winning the bartending competition. The title required her to film cocktail videos for GQ and other Conde Nast publications.

Despite her newfound fame, Williams Pierce intends to remain in Columbus' growing cocktail scene.

“We're all still doing the research and teaching ourselves and learning as we go, and I love that,” she said. “It's inspiring.”