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Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender in Columbus

Ayana Wilson Ayana Wilson Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender in ColumbusPhoto by Ayana Wilson.
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When Annie Williams got into bartending years ago, it was with the same intention as many a wary drink slinger has: an easy way to make money while in college. She started, as most, honing her bottle-opening skills at sports bars, but the rest of her story diverges here a bit from the norm.

A job at Matt the Miller’s Tavern, whose opening coincided with Williams’ jobs search upon return to Columbus after college, led to her being taught the ins and outs of the bar biz by an experienced mentor, who saw not only her talent, but her winning personality.

“You have to play multiple roles as a bartender, and it’s one of the things I love most about it,” shares Williams. “You must have passion for it. That’s the difference between paying for school and doing more with it. You can teach anyone to bartend, but you can’t teach personality.”

And it’s that unteachable quality that has Williams set to compete to be Bombay Sapphire’s World’s Most Imaginative Bartender. She’s the sole representative for our state this year, earning her way by beating out nine other top male bartenders, all from the Cleveland area.

The past creator of the cocktail menus at Brothers Drake Meadery and The Crest Gastropub, Williams competes in Las Vegas on September 8th-12th. If she wins, she’ll be featured on the cover of GQ Magazine and go on to compete at the international level.

So, what does it take to be considered an imaginative bartender? Williams is all about the flavor first, as she believes any bartender worth their salt-rimmed glass should be, but that’s not the only thing that counts.

Williams thinks about the drinks she makes in 3-D: flavor, theme, taste. She considers all she can about what she’ll eventually combine in a glass, like what she wants to highlight about the drink, what it will look like, and how familiar or strange the final product will be to the specific customer.

Boldness and creativity are elemental to being a successful bartender, and winning the Most Imaginative Bartender contest will not only assure Williams she’s doing the right thing with her life, but there’s never been a female champion before. And she wants to be the first.

“You can’t be afraid to try new things. Classics aren’t, and shouldn’t be, immutable,” adds Williams. “It’s such a guy’s world at this echelon, but I like that challenge. I’m always bringing something new, so I think this should be a great experience, if nothing else.”

After the competition, Williams returns to her full-time gig as bartender at The Sycamore, 262 East Sycamore Street, and libation innovator on Taco Tuesday at The Kitchen, 231 East Livingston Avenue, where she collaborates with the chefs there to produce a themed night of food and drink.

And on October 26th, Williams will host a pop-up speakeasy at The Kitchen called Four Thieves Thirst Parlor, a presentation of avant garde techniques when it comes to preparing classic and modern cocktails.

Guests will be treated to a six-drink menu showcasing the Manhattan 3 ways – classic, twisted, and edible – and a trio of gins and the tonics who love them. This will all be paired with a set of bar snacks designed to complement the drinks of the evening.

There is a cap of 50 for this inaugural event, which should cost guests $30 a ticket for 2 drinks and a snack (all drinks and snacks available for cash purchase), so for a chance to pour your imagination on the rocks, don’t hesitate to make a reservation.

Till then, we cheer Williams on as she goes forth and undoubtedly makes our city and state proud. After all, it’s as she says: “If you can’t have fun with it, you’re in the wrong space.” And she’s always having fun.

For more on the Four Thieves Thirst Parlor, visit www.fourthievesthirstparlor.com.

Photo by Ayana Wilson.

vipohiowinesColumbus Underground is Celebrating Sprits & Wine Week from September 1st to 7th, brought to you by Ohio Wines. Visit www.ohiowinesvip.com to learn more about Ohio’s fruit of the vine.

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