I first met Annie during the weeks before the opening of Matt the Miller’s Tavern in Grandview. She was quite the hammer, trumping all of the staff’s asses on every menu and bar quiz, and kicked butt on the floor and beyond. It only took a few shifts of working with her to realize she’s no hammer- she’s the whole damn toolbox.
Annie’s infectious personality and passion for quality food and drinks is lubricated by sharp wit and a creative side that has helped her create a reputation as an innovative and talented bartender in a little under a year. Her role at Brother’s Drake has opened her up to opportunities incomparable to those in most restaurants– a bar stocked with all local liquor, mead, and beer, and full reign over the cocktail and drink menu. As for the drink menu? Well that’s the real reason to head down to the Short North to pay Annie a visit.
No matter how nice a bartender is, the truth is we go to bars to drink. Columbus locals will find it a challenge to find a more creative, delicious, Ohio-centric menu than the one at Brother’s Drake. From the Corner Punch to the Wild Sweet Annie, all of the drinks on Brothers Drake’s drink menu are blow-your-mind awesome (and created by– you guessed it– Annie herself). You’d be hard-up to find something that doesn’t make you say “whoa” after the first two or three tastes.
Although she works whenever she’s needed and rarely finds more than 4-5 hours to rest her eyes, Annie somehow found the time to sit down with me at Woodlands to talk mead, being a young bartender in an expanding market, and about her Brothers Drake family.
Name: Annie Williams
Favorite breweries: Troeg’s, Thirsty Dog, Victory and Russian River
Favorite Ohio Liquor: Watershed Gin
Favorite drink: “It’s super obnoxious.” Rye perfect Mahattan, on the rocks with a twist.
Currently listening to: People Under the Stairs, Smashing Pumpkins and my Pandora Quickmix. Mike Snow’s Animal.
Other Hobbies: Baking!
College/Major: Loyola in Chicago. Political Science and International Relations.
DB: So, how long have you been bartending and working at Brother’s Drake?
AW: I’ve been working for just over 7 months at Brother’s Drake and I’ve been officially working as a “bartender” in Columbus for a year now. I worked at a really sloppy sports bar in Chicago — it was an Ohio State bar — called McGee’s and I generally served people I grew up with. Anyone from Columbus who made it to Chicago…
DB: Wait, so where did you grow up?
AW: I grew up in Upper Arlington, just down the street from here. So this is home.
DB: Ok, cool. So when you worked at Matt the Miller’s, you came flying out of the gate. You didn’t have experience but you seemed to really know your shit.
AW: Well I really wanted to work in a brewery, and then when I was living in Chicago I really got into craft cocktails. Between Chicago and living abroad [in Italy] I just started drinking my way across… everywhere. And I just really like to nerd out about things; alcohol is so easy to nerd out about.
DB: What’s the most important thing you learned about bartending in those first few months?
AW: What Christina [Meehan of CLB Restaurants] taught me is it’s all about attitude. You need to be bossy, you need to slide people their drinks. You need to have confidence. It’s all about attitude– Christina was such a boss and I absorbed as much of that as I possibly could while I was at Matt’s. I grew up in a family of eaters and drinkers, I’ve always had an appreciation for food and I think my palate is pretty well developed. But I’m a nerdball and a young twenty-something, so steering it towards alcohol, well that was natural.
DB: So talk about the Bombay contest. How did you get into it? How did you develop the recipe?
AW: It’s actually pretty ridiculous. I was working at Matt’s and Christina was having a meeting with the Bombay Sapphire reps, and she asked me to come over. She offered me the opportunity and of course I said yes but… it was like, June. I mean I was two months into bartending. The recipe was Bombay Sapphire, Domaine du Canton, muddled orange with blood orange bitters, maharaja curry, ceylon cinnamon, and ground mace. I don’t remember the portions, but it came out… awesome. I like a very strong drink so it was very stiff and I like complex flavors- so I made it complex… I placed third in the Central Ohio division, and was the youngest competitor overall. The winner was from Ocean Club and Lindey’s got 2nd. It was pretty cool, I’m not going to lie. Eric [Allen] from Brother’s Drake was actually there and I think that’s where the dots started getting connected.
DB: So Eric just came to you, and hired you?
AW: I got hired when Oron and Sarah [the owners of BD] were off getting married and you know, they were skeptical, they didn’t know me and I’m young. I was training and had just started working when they came back. It was all good though.
DB: So talk about that, Brother’s Drake.
AW: Well first of all, it’s different because we’re not a bar… we’re a tasting room, an environment where people walk in the door and people don’t even know what our product is or how we do it. You can tell! Really, not only do they not know what we are… they don’t know what we make. There is so much more time spent [at BD’s], I have to start at square one. People constantly ask “well, wait, what grapes?” and I have to say “no grapes, honey.” And as for internally… Oron and Sarah are great. Their biggest concern is health; they want our staff, the family, to be as healthy as possible. They care and invest so much in our health and well being that it would blow my mind not to. They have provided me with so many opportunities to improve my health and take care of myself in ways that are easy to overlook. I don’t know how to describe it without sounding superficial– I mean, I feel great, I’ve lost a ton of weight, I have so much more energy… my mind focuses better, I’m more attentive and it’s a combination of working with in-tune, awesome people and taking care of yourself.
DB: And the products you carry?
AW: It’s interesting because we’re all local. We have Watershed products, we carry Middle West Spirits. We’re the only place you can find Athens’ Jackie O’s beer on tap in Columbus. But you know, it’s curated– we’re not just going to be a grab bag of all things local. We strive to find the best quality, Ohio-made products possible. You’re not going to find something in our bar just because it’s made in Ohio. You know, we all try the products and work together to make sure what we have is interesting, quality alcohol. And of course– locally made. It’s really hard to run a bar without triple sec… but we make it work. The whole spring menu I’m rolling out, I’ve removed the Domaine du Canton, the St. Germain, we’re sticking to all-Ohio… and it’s hard! It’s fucking hard. But it’s worth it. The new menu I’m working on has a twist on a sazerac, with OYO whiskey, black licorice mead, peach bitters and fresh lemon with saffron simple syrup. It’s herbal and sour and deep… I love it.
DB: Alright, what’s the most satisfying part of working at Brothers Drake?
AW: The cocktail creation. It really shocks people sometimes. On Wednesday a customer came in and asked me to recommend the “best” cocktail, and I said “well, I really like all of them.” She responded, “Oh, you’re supposed to say that– you work here,” and I thought “no, really, I made them all.” I mean there’s a drink named after me. It’s awesome.
DB: You look so happy right now. As for the future?
AW: Well it’s awesome! I love it. It’s hard work. I perform all day, every day. Open to close, every day… it’s a lot, but it’s worth it. We’re a lean operation, but it is so unbelievably satisfying. Five years from now I want to be still working for Oron and Sarah, for this family. I don’t know what the next phase will be, it may not even be here in Columbus but I know whatever it is it will be amazing– balls to the wall, making it happen– it’s infectious. I don’t want to leave it.