The Best Bars in Sydney, According to One of the World’s Top Bartenders
Here’s where Martin Hudák, founder of Australia’s highest-rated cocktail den, drinks on his nights off
No matter where you live in the U.S., if you want to visit Australia, you’re going to be on a plane for a very long time.
From NYC, you’re looking at a total of two flights and over 22 hours of travel time. From Houston, it’s about a 20 hour journey. And from L.A., there’s a nonstop that’ll get you there in just over 15 hours. Point being, a trip to Australia takes commitment; and for most, it falls into the category of “trip of a lifetime.” Given this investment of time, effort and money, you’ll want to do everything you can to do Australia right. That includes drinking.
Regardless of the itinerary you choose, chances are you’ll spend at least a day or two in Australia’s largest city, Sydney. To narrow in on the best bars in the capital of New South Wales, we enlisted the help of a man who knows a thing or two about the topic: Martin Hudák, master barman and co-founder of Maybe Sammy, which is currently the best bar in Australia and 29th best on the planet according to The World’s 50 Best Bars.
Martin Hudák: International Man Of Mixology
Born and raised in Slovakia, Hudák began his bartending career straight out of secondary school. A few years later, Hudák made his way to London and landed at one of the world’s most legendary hotel watering holes: the American Bar at the Savoy. There, while working as senior bartender for nearly five years, he honed his skills and gained name recognition on the international bartending stage. Fusing his passion for two liquid vices — coffee and spirits — he won first place at the 2017 World Coffee in Good Spirits Championship (a global competition dedicated to coffee-based cocktails), then traveled to over 50 countries to lead training programs on the art of combining coffee and booze. Today, he is one of the industry’s foremost authorities on coffee cocktails, has published a book on the subject and is an ambassador for craft coffee liqueur brand, Mr Black Spirits.
But Hudák’s skill as a bartender, sans coffee, has won him plenty of praise too. In the time since his stint at the Savoy, he has become a mainstay in the world finals of global industry competitions, moved to Sydney to help open the bar Maybe Sammy (more on that in a moment) and won a number of accolades. And with Hudák today still in his early 30s and Maybe Sammy still in its infancy, all signs point to this just being the beginning.
Maybe Sammy: Australia’s Best Bar
Maybe Sammy — the vision of Stefano Catino (an award-winning bartender in his own right), Vince Lombardo and Hudák — debuted in Sydney’s historic and trendy neighborhood The Rocks in January of 2019. From the get-go, the guys set out to create much more than your average neighborhood drinking establishment. In crafting Maybe Sammy’s atmosphere, service and details, they looked to classic, high-end hotel bars as inspiration. They wanted something that provided a five-star feel and service, but without the stuffiness or seriousness often found in luxe hotel bars — and they threaded the needle perfectly.
Inside, you’ll find an airy and modern take on 1950s Hollywood and Vegas glamor. There’s a long bar with a white marble top, a wall of back-lit spirits, brushed gold accents and vintage palm print wallpaper. Behind the marble slab, the bartenders may look buttoned up in their pale pink, double-breasted jackets with shirt and tie, but they’re well known for having fun on the job, a bit of theatrics (exhibit A, exhibit B and exhibit C) and pulling the trigger on bubble guns throughout the night. When it’s busy and live music is in full swing, it can feel downright Rat-Packian — when a night out drinking used to strike the perfect balance between rowdy and sophisticated fun.
The environment Catino, Lombardo and Hudák created here hasn’t gone unnoticed. In 2020, Maybe Sammy won the Michter’s Art of Hospitality Award from The World’s 50 Best Bars Academy (meaning, out of every bar in the world, they were voted to have the best hospitality and service experience). After the win, in an interview, Hudák said of hospitality, “It’s something that you cannot touch or feel. It’s somewhere there around you; a feeling, an emotion — like love. You know it’s there, but you can’t put your finger on it.” He went on to say that “it’s really up to us as to how we can transfer this feeling to our guests. It’s one thing creating amazing cocktails with the ingredients that we are lucky enough to work with, but hospitality is the extra thing that is given from the heart and can be the difference between a good and great bar.”
There’s no question that Maybe Sammy is a great bar. But all this pomp and circumstance begs the question: how are the actual drinks? Pay them a visit and you’ll find two distinct cocktail menus. On their signature menu, there are modern interpretations of classic cocktails, six mini cocktails if you’re looking to sample instead of commit, several coffee-based drinks (no surprise there), a selection made from vintage and limited-edition spirits (like a $150 Negroni made with booze from the 1970s), a martini trolly offering tableside service, plus a selection of Champagne, wine and Australian beers. And while this alone would be enough for most bars, Maybe Sammy isn’t most bars.
For their truly next-level creations, check out their specialty menu, which changes entirely each year. Their newest lineup, called Mirage, which launched on May 10, features a list of cocktails, each spearheaded by a member of the bar team and designed to capture “a personal mirage moment; an experience that turned out to be completely different to their original expectations.” Watch the videos of the drinks’ preparation and you’ll see they’re bringing some serious Chef’s Table, Michelin star-level energy this time around. It’s also, almost certainly, the type of menu that’ll land them yet again on The World’s 50 Best Bar ranking.
Martin Hudák’s 7 Favorite Bars in Sydney
While it goes without saying that Maybe Sammy should be at the very top of your list of bars to hit while in Sydney, be sure to consider the following bars too, which come recommended directly from Hudák himself.
“Sammy Junior, which is open from early morning (7 a.m.) until late, is located within a historical building from the early 1900s in the financial district in the city center. From the outside, you’re looking at an old-school, important-looking building, and once you walk inside, it feels like you’re in Milan in the Gucci or Prada store. The room is adorned with vintage mirrors, lamps and marble — everything you’d need in an elegant Italian cafe. This is the perfect place to start your day with a daily aperitivo or coffee cocktail paired with small Italian-produced bites like a cheese or salumi board and crostini.”
My Order: “The signature Espresso Martini with rum, Mr Black Coffee Liqueur and coconut water.”
Writer’s Note: There’s no rule saying one of your favorite bars in your city can’t also be one you co-founded (as you might have guessed from the name, Sammy Junior is an offshoot of Maybe Sammy and you can regularly find Hudák behind the bar here too).
“Bar Topa is a hidden gem in the city center tucked away on a tiny street. Once you walk in, you feel like you’ve been transported to Barcelona, Seville or Madrid. The tapas are displayed in a glass window for easy selection and the food and drinks arrive quickly. This is the perfect spot to visit before a big night out (I’d recommend visiting starting midday to 10 p.m. max, as it’s really the perfect day spot).”
My Order: “A glass of sherry or their signature Marquez Negroni.”
“This spot is located on the 22nd floor of a very beautiful new building in the city center. It’s a one-minute walk from Bar Topa and a five-minute walk from Sammy Junior (I’d recommend visiting each for the perfect bar crawl). Once you enter, you’re above the clouds and don’t feel like you’re in Sydney. The skyline view and five-star hotel vibe make you feel like you’re in NYC, Tokyo or Singapore. The best part about this spot is the service and drinks that live up to the five-star hotel experience.”
My Order: “Their Giza Cocktail with smoked whisky, Mr Black Coffee Liqueur and hibiscus burnt honey served in a theatrical pyramid glass with smoke.”
“A 30-second walk from Dean & Nancy, the Double Deuce Lounge is an underground bar with beautiful decor and vibe, and riffs on your favorite classics. The bar is on a busy street, but once you open the door to the basement you’re suddenly in a very chic lounge that feels like Los Angeles in the 1970s or ‘80s. The bar gets its name from the classic Patrick Swayze movie Road House and is very retro, covered in red lights and serving incredible classic cocktails. The bar was recognized by the Time Out Awards a few years ago for best new bar openings and is always a hit.”
My Order: “A Stinger or any other spirit-forward classic.”
“Apollonia is one of the bars that’s closest to the Sydney Harbor and Opera House. It’s located in the basement of an old heritage building and is inspired by the Godfather movie. The first floor is an Italian restaurant focusing on grains and pasta, the second floor is an entirely pescatarian menu, and the underground basement is Apollonia, focusing on delicious refined cocktails. The bar smells like gunpowder and is adorned with heavy stone across the board. You’ll find a very strong Italian influence full of amaro and aperitivo cocktails with their own house-made amaro.”
My Order: “Definitely the Tiramisu Milk Punch.”
“This is the smallest bar you’ll ever go to and is the best way to finish your night. It’s located in a garage in a little laneway serving beer and everything agave based — there’s no fuss around anything besides mezcal, tequila and margaritas. Twelve people fit comfortably in the space and in true Mexican cantina fashion, everyone is standing and mingling with everyone. The space is covered in candles and is just the best watering hole.”
My Order: “Make sure to get their amazing margarita.”
“If you want to feel like you’re in the cowboys club, listening to folk and blues while cracking peanuts and sipping local beers, this is the place to end your night. Shady Pines is located in a basement a little outside the city center and transports you to a true country lodge, complete with live music and patrons wearing cowboy boots. The bartenders are incredibly friendly and hospitable and the space is covered with taxidermy animals, beer coasters and old advertisements. You’ll always have a beautiful time here.”
My Order: “The Boilermaker (a local easy lager and a shot of rye).”
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