How Maybe Sammy brought 1960s glamour to Sydney
To open a bar that pays homage to the glamour of Las Vegas in the Rat Pack era is to promise customers more than just your average cocktail bar experience.
*This feature was originally published in the June 2022 issue of The Spirits Business
Maybe Sammy, located in a neighbourhood of historic laneways in the shadow of Sydney Harbour Bridge, has transported guests to the opulent days of the early 1960s since it opened in 2019.
“Our vision was to bring old-school classic hospitality, combined with a modern drinking approach, in the set of a 1950s and 1960s Hollywood glamour-style venue,” says Martin Hudak, who opened the bar with Vincenzo Lombardo, a born-and-raised Australian with Italian heritage, and Italian Stefano Catino.
“It was always about the glamorous feel and vibe of Hollywood, casino style. We wanted to create a bar where people would feel a bit fancy and elegant. All the little details are very important for our Maybe Sammy vibe.”
The bar is peppered with Art Deco touches; scallop-edged banquettes upholstered in rich, bubblegum-hued velvets; a green-faced wooden bar topped with a thick slab of polished marble; and gold-legged high tables with elegant stools running along the centre of the room.
The ‘pink VIP area’ features bright, tropical palm-print wallpaper, that could look tacky but somehow appears achingly cool, while the back-bar glows with an eclectic collection of bottles housed in arched alcoves.
The trio of co-founders bring an abundance of international influences to the venue, with inspiration brought from Europe’s revered hotel bars and the Italian way of hospitality, but guests also shouldn’t be surprised to share a drink with an inflatable flamingo, or sip their cocktail among a cloud of bubbles.
“We are not only experts in the F&B industry, but we are also great entertainers – and that’s where we pay a lot of attention to,” says Hudak. “Of course, the drinks have to be great and the service on point, but that extra touch of showmanship and performance makes our venue unique and our team the most memorable.”
Smell the coffee
Hudak cut his teeth at London’s American Bar at the Savoy, where he was senior bartender for almost four years. Born in Slovakia, his career in hospitality started at the Hotel Academy, Bratislava, where he graduated with a chef’s diploma.
“I never really liked it in the kitchen,” he admits, but it was where he discovered a passion for both coffee and cocktails. Soon he got a job at a café in Slovakia, and it was during his five years there that he cemented his love for coffee, which is reflected in the menus at Maybe Sammy.
“We are well known for classic drinks, mini cocktails and Martini trolleys, but our coffee cocktails have been a hit since we opened.” Australia’s coffee culture verges on the obsessive. “It’s like a religion here,” Hudak confirms. With roasteries and speciality coffee shops in abundance, the quality of Australian coffee is considerably high in comparison with many other parts of the world, and its influence is being felt in the cocktail industry.
“I’ve seen huge improvements in the world of coffee cocktails in the last seven years,” continues Hudak, who also works as global brand ambassador for coffee liqueur brand Mr Black Spirits. “More and more professionals are using good-quality coffee and coffee products, and they appreciate them more. The reason behind this is definitely liqueur brands such as Mr Black, and also like-minded people like me, who are propelling coffee-cocktail culture around the world. Specialty coffee is also now more accessible than ever before.”
In March 2021, during the Covid-19 lockdown, Hudak and his business partners leant even further into Australia’s coffee culture, opening a second venue, Sammy Junior. This was a bold move in the middle of a global pandemic that saw the country’s borders closed for two years, but the trio saw a gap in the market for this secondary venue.
Hudak says: “It was a great business opportunity for a concept that doesn’t exist in Australia – an all-day aperitivo café serving coffee and cocktails at any time. We are focusing on classic aperitivo cocktails and our in-house roasted coffee. It is much simpler than Maybe Sammy, and a relaxed place for your afternoon meeting over espresso, Garibaldi cocktails, and Italian paninis.”
Located in Sydney’s Central Business District, Sammy Junior boasts the largest selection of amaro, bitters and vermouths in the city but it is still the caffeinated serves that keep the bar cashing in. Hudak says: “The best-selling cocktail in our bar is definitely our signature Espresso Martini made with dark rum, Mr Black, coconut water, espresso and sea salt, with a garnish of cacao nibs.”
The pandemic delivered opportunities for Maybe Sammy. Having no new visitors to the city for the duration had its effects on trade, but a quick pivot in commercial plan led to new revenue streams for the bars, streams that have now become permanent fixtures for the business.
Hudak says: “Our focus switched from more international to the local approach, where we gained lots of new guests and support from Sydney insiders. We managed to establish our own premium Maybe Sammy bottled cocktails from the beginning of the pandemic.”
The eight bottled cocktails, each an evolution of the bar’s most-requested drinks, are available on the venue’s website, offering ‘a new portal to a golden era’. With delivery available throughout Australia, the ready-to-pour Art Deco-style bottles have allowed Maybe Sammy to reach new drinkers.
Hudak says: “It wasn’t only a quick response to surviving, but from day one it was a business of its own, and helps us to spread our name to different clientele.”
Now, with the country’s travel restrictions over, the efforts have paid off. “We are busier than ever, and our bars are really thriving,” Hudak enthuses. “Borders are open so we are back to welcoming more and more international guests.”