Just don't ask the bartender for a Toblerone.
It's Friday evening and the Sydney CBD is heaving with life. Throngs of people are gathering on King Street Wharf to board dinner cruises that'll soon dot the harbour like fireflies. Barangaroo's waterside restaurants and bars are bursting with life. And - on the other side of the town - perched on the foot of the Sydney Opera House, with glorious views of the Harbour Bridge, Opera Bar is overflowing with people, too.
But my destination tonight is Maybe Sammy. Tucked in a nondescript building in the heart of the Rocks precinct, it has been ranked number one in Australia by the World's 50 Best Bars. And that's a big deal.
For the uninitiated, the highly prestigious list is produced by UK-based media firm William Reed, which also puts together the World's 50 Best Restaurants list. For the past five years, not a single Australian restaurant has featured on that list. So, for Maybe Sammy to have appeared on the coveted bars line-up five years in a row - and at number 15 in 2023 - is no mean feat.
Other happening haunts on this list range from Sips in Barcelona at number one to Little Red Door in Paris at number five, and just one other Australian bar features in the top 50: Caretaker's Cottage in Melbourne at number 23. No wonder, I arrive at Maybe Sammy - decked up with bright floral wallpapers, pink velvet booths and a long marble bar - to find it packed with punters. Cocktails are being shaken to Frank Sinatra's New York, New York and Insta-worthy food is being dished out.
Everyone's impressed ... except for the bartender. Dressed in a soft-pink coat, he tells me two of the patrons tonight have ordered Toblerones: the creamy, chocolatey and - heaven forbid - sweet cocktail from last century. And that, according to him, is nothing short of a crime at this establishment.
"This is a progressive bar where we want to push the envelope on how interesting cocktails can get," he says. "But some people just don't want to move past the classics."
A Kissaten Martini is one example of what he's talking about. With off-kilter ingredients such as soy sauce and garlic, along with rum, Amaro and winter melon, it tastes just like an exquisite espresso martini, but without any coffee whatsoever.
Vino Bastardo is another case in point. "This is a grape-based cocktail," the bartender says. "It takes inspiration from a glass of wine. Everything inside is a grape-based product but it tastes like an Old Fashioned."
A visit to Maybe Sammy, however, is not just about liquid pleasures. There's beef tartare spiked with green peppercorns and king fish ceviche laced with finger lime on the food menu, but I opt for the toastie. Loaded with pecorino, cheddar, brie and truffle, it's downright delightful and just what I crave on this cool-ish evening. And the good news is: this is one classic, I bet, even the bartender wouldn't mind. maybesammy.com
Read more on Explore:
Where else to drink in The Rocks.
1. Frank Macs: Go for the sandstone building complete with cosy interiors, stay back for the exhaustive gin list with more than 100 juniper blends from around the globe. frankmacs.com.au
2. Le Foote: The Swillhouse group - which is behind some of Sydney's best establishments, including Restaurant Hubert and the Baxter Inn - runs Le Foote. Meaning you can't go wrong at this part Parisian wine bar, part Mediterranean grill. swillhouse.com/venues/le-foote
3. The Glenmore Hotel: For timeless charm, laidback food and drinks, and sweeping harbour views, you can't go past this classic haunt. theglenmore.com.au
The writer was a guest of Maybe Sammy.