Words: Ben Davidson
Sydney’s newest bar that is capturing attention is the thematic and dramatic Maybe Sammy in The Rocks. The new venue comes from the creative genius minds of Stefano Catino & Vince Lombardo and the team from Maybe Frank to deliver an exceedingly stylish and effortlessly cool cocktail oasis in the old heart of the city.
Maybe Sammy is an extension and elevation of the rat-pack theme that originated with pizza and aperitif inspired Maybe Frank, Surry Hills in 2015, named after Sinatra. This new venture eponymously pays homage to one of the 1950s era, enigmatic celebrity comedians, Sammy Davis Jnr., and it’s magnificently done. Taking inspiration from this glorious and unbridled decade of post-war rebellion, cocktails and booze, Maybe Sammy reinterprets the best bits and make it better, with a modern twist that is very premium, incredibly thought out, stylishly curated and expertly delivered, to such an extent that it’s mind blowing.
But ultimately, why this bar is one of the best in the world, is due to the incredible hospitality experience that you are ingratiated with by maestro Stefano and the bar team. Including owner-partner and bartender extraordinaire, Andrea Gualdi, ‘the next best bartender in the world’ and the most hospitable gentleman, Martin Hudák and the talented and intriguing Balazs Molnar, ex-Artesian, London. From the second you are greeted upon entering, or even looking like you might enter their bar, you are drawn into their world, where anything could happen if you’re prepared to let it.
This team of people operate like a well-oiled ‘make you feel amazing about yourself’ machine and it comes from a place of genuine and heartfelt gratitude. They make you feel special for the duration of your visit but it’s in the fleeting moments of conversation about the food or drinks you’re about to have and it’s the moment of presentation that makes you go ‘WOW’ and you’ll still remember it years from now. That’s true hospitality to me, and they give it out by the spoonful for free! You just have to be ready to receive and be grateful that people are prepared to go to these lengths to make you a happier person. Just remember to pay your bill, which you’ll happily do because you leave there, feeling high as a kite on life!
The thought and planning that has gone into the concept is thorough and impressive both from a distance and close up. The effort that goes into the preparation of ingredients and ‘pre-batching’ so that the drink arrives to you within seconds, sometimes, but usually before you expect it, is exceptional.
This is the kind of bar where you can happily put yourself in the hands of the bartender to take you on a journey. Especially when it’s Martin, Andrea or Balazs; you have my reassurance that these guys are the next breed of globe-trotting, Euro-stepping, scooter riding, no sock wearing, über-cool bartenders, that don’t have to try too hard to impress because they just know. Because it’s in their DNA and others of their ilk already work at some of the best cocktail bars near you!
Andrea Gualdi is a bartending legend in the making – a former World Class Australia winner, Drinks World T25 bartender and Maybe Sammy part owner. Andrea spent months developing the cocktail concepts and recipes with his trusted ‘flavour extraction experts’ (aka bartending friends and mentors) to create and clarify a cocktail list that is part whimsy, part irony but goes all in when it comes to historical relevance, impeccable balance, flavour finesse and audacious creativity.
The Mini Martinis is a great way to start and for $50 you get five mini martinis to get the ball rolling and the palate cleansed. Pre-diluted, batched and chilled these come to you straight from the bottle in a dainty coupette, to be sipped on, while flashes of a bygone era come to mind and slowly drift away again. The Sammy is a glorious little slider, built on Never Never Gin, home-made mint stuff and Oscar.697 Rosso Vermouth and has a sweet minty freshness and subtle chocolatey bitterness and just enough of each to keep the palate salivating for the next sip.
I love a good magic trick and one that results in an instant cocktail materialising before your eyes is next level stuff. For the Circus Circus, named after one of the Vegas casino hangouts of the rat-pack, Balazs asked me to choose how much mint and chilli I want in a cocktail that’s going to be created especially, and add them to a paper bag. Next thing you know, the bag is blown up and popped and suddenly I’m presented with a cocktail in a tube that is opened and poured over a block of ice. Presto!
Coffee guru and bartender Martin Hudák is an ex-Savoy, London bartender and is a rare egg in the ranks of bartender excellence. His personality, wit and disarming charm balances the right amount of eccentricity with purposeful humility and grace that appears to come so naturally to this incredibly intelligent human. Constantly multitasking and already three steps ahead of what he has to do, he is a drinks creation tour de force and hospitality wizard!
Sitting at the bar, you’ll be mesmerised by his three-piece shaker working flair that is in a small part an ironic piss-take, but a lot of fun to watch when you appreciate how hard he works it and how good he is. He was approached by Stefano last year about a move to Sydney to take up a role and residency at Maybe Sammy and ‘don’ the now prestigious and somewhat kitsch pink bartenders jacket that has to be earned through intense and dedicated hospitality experience and he’s got that in spades.
As it turned out Martin said “let’s do it” and all of Sydney is the beneficiary. Martin has brought his prodigious knowledge of coffee to the team and collaborated with Andrea to develop three coffee-inspired cocktails. Including a velvety smooth chilled riff on the Irish Coffee with Redbreast 12yo and honey, the bittersweet, Sammy Shakerito with coffee, Campari and Lemoncello and the Espresso Martiki with a ‘lets get tropical’ feel with Plantation Pineapple Rum, Mr. Black and house-made tropical syrup, playing along nicely with the single source coffee, chosen by Martin and roasted here in Sydney. Martin also moonlights as the global ambassador for Mr. Black.
The cocktails take you on a sensory journey that includes as many of the senses as possible. Especially the New Frontier, which Martin suggested we try as he told us the story that inspired the drink from a tale of the rat-pack that at one of their legendary parties that would start in Vegas but on occasion would end up in Mexico. The drink combines Calle 23 Blanco, Mezcal Derumbes, fino sherry and clarified apple, and before you know it, you are breathing in this warm scented roasted coffee air pricked from an airbag and blown in your face.
Then you take a sip of the stark looking clear liquid on a single crystal clear rock of Bare Bones Ice and you begin to imagine you’re maybe Sammy, Frank or Dean in a bar in Mexicali, sipping on the hair of the dog from the night before, as you try to make sense of what just happened and how you got there.
Then it’s gone, but the memories remain.
When asked about how he feels about his new bar Stefano says, “I’m so happy to have finally made with my team the first hotel bar without a hotel because I was a bit short for building 100 rooms and sexy key chain…” Sounds like something maybe Sammy would’ve said.
Maybe Sammy, 111 Harrington Street, The Rocks
Instagram: @maybe_sammy_sydney #maybesammy
Tuesday & Wednesday: 4pm – 12am
Thursday, Friday & Saturday: 4pm – 2am
Sunday: 4pm – 12am