DS Oficina

16 bars, 10 countries, eight nights — aka the Maybe Cocktail Festival. This month, the crème de la crème of the bartending world travelled to Sydney to take part in an inaugural event spearheaded by The Maybe Group, the force behind the Best Bar in Australasia Maybe Sammy as well as Dean & Nancy on 22, Sammy Junior and newcomer El Primo Sanchez.

The festival was the first of its kind to be held outside the realms of The World’s 50 Best Bars program and aimed to inspire participants as much as drinkers.

Hospitality spoke to Martin Hudak in the lead up to the festivities about how he hoped the event would show the world just how special Australia’s bar culture is.

The Maybe Group Co-Founders Stefano Catino and Martin Hudak are no strangers to the world stage. The bartenders and business owners run Australia’s highest-ranking bar Maybe Sammy, which has cemented its place on The World’s 50 Best Bars list ever since it opened its doors in The Rocks four years ago.

Hudak and Catino have strong ties to the bartending community, with the pair representing the local bar sector at various drinks events. But the two often found themselves as an anomaly at overseas events, which begs the question — what do people think about our bars?

Steven Woodburn

“Whenever we travel, it always seems like we’re the only ones from Australia,” says Hudak. “It felt like we should have more out there and show the world that we’re really amazing when it comes to hospitality. In our company, we don’t just want to take, we want to give, and we understand not everyone can travel across the world like we do.

“So, the idea was to bring the world’s best bars to the city for a week to inspire our peers and to inspire the bartenders, too. We want them to go back home and say, ‘Whoa, the bars are incredible, and the level of hospitality and drinks is beyond’, because we deserve that.”

Pulling off a festival requires many, many sets of hands — which is where Public Hospitality came into the picture. The Maybe Group and Public recently launched El Primo Sanchez in Paddington together, making the festival partnership a timely and natural fit. Public also confirmed it had acquired Maybe Sammy’s portfolio a few weeks ago.

“We do lots of guest shifts, so we know how hard it is to organise,” says Hudak. “We asked Public for help in terms of execution, and each bar was brought here by a specific brand. They all jumped on board straight away. Each brand sponsored a bar for a night, and they were hosted at one of our venues or one of Public Hospitality’s.”

16 bars took part in the program, with talent travelling from Greece, Singapore, Thailand, Mexico, Colombia, Spain, Italy, Argentina, the US and the UK. The goal was to fill out the program with venues doing things differently in terms of their skillsets, backstories and cocktail-making ethea.

“We wanted to bring venues who can influence local bars because of their origins — we’re not just going to bring bars from London and Singapore because everyone talks about them,” says Hudak.

“We wanted bars from places such as Colombia and Argentina because their approach to drinks is very different — or maybe not…we don’t know. But all of them are on the list for different reasons whether it’s for sustainability or maybe the owner is the best bartender.”

From 12 April, two to three bartenders from Sips (Spain); Alquimico (Colombia); Jigger & Pony (Singapore); Hanky Panky (Mexico); BKK Social Club (Thailand); Drink Kong (Italy); Café La Trova (US); Tres Monos (Argentina); Line (Greece); Overstory (US); A Bar with Shapes for a Name (UK); L’Antiquario (Italy); Schofield’s Bar (UK); Nutmeg & Clove (Singapore); Sweet Liberty (US) and Bar Termini (UK) ascended on Sydney for a week.

Accepting the invite was a default yes for each and every bar team, with many having never spent time in Australia before. “It was a split second, ‘Why are you even asking me? Tell me when and I will be there’,” says Hudak.

“When we announced the festival, bars were asking if they could come, too. Some even said they would fly themselves over — they just wanted to be here with us. We will see a variance of bars — one uses local, sustainable produce from a farm in Colombia; we have the best bars from Singapore and Bangkok; dive bars; Cuban bartenders from Miami who dance and sing and we will have the most minimalistic bar where the owner is very particular about their approach.”

Each bar had full control of the four cocktails they created, with the only parameters set around spirits. Maybe Sammy staff were on deck to help bartenders source ingredients and assist with prep for the guest shifts, which were held at venues determined by the style of the guest bar. “Latino bars were at El Primo Sanchez, dive bars at Maybe Sammy and hotel bars at Dean & Nancy,” says Hudak.

There was also a dedicated Australian night on 17 April, which saw six venues from Melbourne and Sydney come together behind the bar. “Re-, PS40, Cantina Ok!, Byrdi, Above Board and Caretaker’s Cottage presented cocktails made with Mr Black, but the main thing was having one night with the best bars in Australia — it’s a unique opportunity for people to enjoy the bars under one roof rather than hopping from city to city,” says Hudak.

But it’s not all about drinking — the festival incorporated an educational component for the industry on 16 April. Visiting talent participated in panel discussions and masterclasses at Carriageworks, which was open for hospitality professionals to attend. “It’s great to try cocktails and have a night out, but we should also share knowledge and ideas in a more sophisticated environment,” says Hudak.

“I want to encourage people from all states to come. How can we grow and inspire each other if we don’t get out there or bring the world here? You can talk to the greatest bartenders in the world in one city for one week. I’ve never seen something like this done in Australia.”