I'd better get myself back to Maybe Sammy. That was my immediate thought after I learnt of the Sydney venue's impressive feat of winning Best New International Cocktail Bar at the influential Spirited Awards in New Orleans on Saturday night.
Located in The Rocks, Maybe Sammy was opened in January by Stefano Catino and Vince Lombardo of the Maybe Frank pizza restaurants located in Surry Hills and Randwick.
Cocktails were a key element of the offering at their restaurants; their chief mixologist Andrea Gualdi won the pinnacle of global bartending competitions, World Class, in 2017.
So the duo, together with Gualdi as a partner, decided to turn their hand to a specialist cocktail bar. Thus, Maybe Sammy was born.
The more you know
I'm somewhat ashamed to say that I didn't really know all this background when I visited Maybe Sammy for an industry event earlier this year. I'm sure it was in a media release in my inbox somewhere.
Billed as a Las Vegas-themed "hotel bar, minus the hotel", the venue itself didn't make a huge impression on me aesthetically.
That is, unlike say Baxter Inn and The Lobo Plantation, fellow Sydney cocktail bars that are immediately visually striking, such that they would clearly stand out even on the global stage.
The secret to success
But interior fit-out is only one small element of what makes a great bar. Having only visited for an event, I'm yet to see Maybe Sammy in full swing.
Based on this most recent accolade, it must be impressive. Anyone can submit a Spirited Awards nomination online, but from there, the judging process gets much tougher.
Winners are selected by a panel of over 100 industry experts, who first evaluate submissions to identify a regional top ten for each category.
Four new Australian bars made it into the Asia & Pacific top ten for Best New International Cocktail Bar: Maybe Sammy, Cantina OK! and The Scout at The Dolphin Hotel in Sydney, and The Hotel Esplanade in Melbourne.
This pitted them against regional competition from six other bars located in Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, China and New Zealand, and another 30 bars globally selected from the other international regions; Europe, Middle East & Africa and The Americas.
To win Best New International Cocktail Bar, Maybe Sammy progressed into an international top ten, then into a shortlist of four finalists, where it beat two London bars and one from Barcelona to be judged the winner. Whew!
Co-owner Stefano Catino attributes the recognition to his venue's focus on another vital ingredient of any great bar: Service.
"We do great drinks, but we love people. We care a lot about our customers, that's our first goal," he says.
He points to Maybe Sammy's crack bar team comprised of co-owner Andrea Gualdi and Martin Hudak, both of whom have worked at the iconic American Bar at The Savoy Hotel in London. Also on board is Balazs Molnar, who along with Gualdi has London's acclaimed Artesian Bar on his CV.
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𝐁𝐄𝐒𝐓 𝐍𝐄𝗪 𝐈𝐍𝐓𝐄𝐑𝐍𝐀𝐓𝐈𝐎𝐍𝐀𝐋 𝐂𝐎𝐂𝐊𝐓𝐀𝐈𝐋 𝐁𝐀𝐑 “𝘗𝘢𝘳𝘵 𝘰𝘧 𝘴𝘩𝘰𝘸 𝘣𝘶𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘢𝘨𝘪𝘤. 𝘠𝘰𝘶 𝘥𝘰𝘯’𝘵 𝘬𝘯𝘰𝘸 𝘩𝘰𝘸 𝘪𝘵 𝘩𝘢𝘱𝘱𝘦𝘯𝘴.” 𝘚𝘢𝘮𝘮𝘺 𝘋𝘢𝘷𝘪𝘴 𝘑𝘳. We are over the moon to share with you magical moments from last night where we’ve been crowned as the best among the best during awards ceremony at @tales_of_the_cocktail in New Orleans! This recognition means a lot to our hard working team and it wouldn’t be possible without your support and love you gave to us within six months of our opening. Congratulations to all other winners and nominees! See you at the bar. #maybesammy #totc19 #awards #hotelbarminushotel
"They've worked at the best hotel bars in London, and that's what they teach you to do there – to make sure the customer is always at the centre of your attention, while you're making great drinks," Catino says.
Clearly Maybe Sammy's priorities were in the right place for the Spirited Awards judges, who had to visit the bar in order to vote for it.
"We wanted to open a cocktail bar in Sydney that was beyond belief," Catino says.
"Now somebody has confirmed that we know what we're doing, and it feels very good."
James Atkinson is creator of the Drinks Adventures podcast and a previous editor of Australian Brews News and drinks industry publication TheShout. A Certified Cicerone® and 2017 winner of the Australian International Beer Awards media prize, James regularly contributes to other publications including Halliday, Good Food, QantasLink Spirit and more.