At the recent Australia Liquor Industry Awards (ALIA), Maybe Sammy’s Sarah Proietti took home the gong for Bartender of the Year.

Bars & Clubs spoke to Sarah to learn more about her history in hospitality, what it was like to win, and what the industry means to her.

Like many leading bartenders, Sarah was drawn to the profession out of a desire to escape the standard 9-to-5.

“I started to work at Shake cocktail bar in Rovellasca (Italy), I was working as a waitress and at the time I was still in high school studying business management and not really sure what I really wanted to do in life, hospitality wasn’t an option till then,” Sarah says.

“Around the same time I also started to work in an office as an accountant and I remember that I couldn’t stop checking the time and I felt so anxious thinking that I was going to do such a boring job for the rest of my life. 

Eventually (and despite some discouragement from her mentor, Giorgio Tagliabue, the owner of Shake) Sarah’s interest in hospitality led her to enroll in the International Bartenders Association school in Milan, before making the move to Australia.

“It definitely wasn’t easy, especially the first year. I was a 22 year old backpacker with the dream of making cocktails down under but the reality was I couldn’t speak English and no one wanted to give me a job,” Sarah says.

“My first job in Australia was making take-away coffees in a suburb outside Perth, while my second job was picking fruit to be able to get my second visa. It was hard but I never lost the enthusiasm. I trusted the process, was committed to prove myself in this industry and I thrive to be better from day one.”

In the end, Sarah’s hard work paid off, and she achieved her dream – working in the hospitality industry for eight years, including a stint as Bar Manager Merivale’s J&M Whisky Bar, and another as Bar Manager at Perth’s Print Hall.

“Both were amazing work experiences that allowed me to develop skills, product knowledge and creativity,” Sarah explains.

“I’ve always tried to take part in industry activations and cocktail competitions, which have helped me to build my name in the industry.”

Sarah said she was particularly glad to be recognised as Bartender of the Year, given the strength of the field.

“I was very surprised [to win] to be honest, especially because of the calibre of the bartenders that were nominated like super Millie Tang [The Gresham] or Kenney Harrison [Bar Planet] – bartenders that inspire me every day,” she says.

For Sarah, winning at ALIA was a moment that crowned a glittering career, but also a reward for her younger self, who had gambled so much to make her dream a reality, as she outlines.

“In my head I thought: ‘This is for 22 year old Sarah.’ I felt receiving such an amazing recognition summed up everything I’ve done since stepping in Australia. Australia has shaped me personally and professionally, and I’m very grateful and honoured to receive the ALIA Award this year.”

Bars & Clubs also spoke to Martin Hudak and Stefano Catino, to hear their perspective on what makes Sarah such a special talent behind the bar.

Martin believes her leadership and imagination when tending the bar helps her to stand out.

“Sarah brings a heap of creativity to the table, is a great leader and sets a high standard for our team. I’ve really enjoyed working alongside her the last three years and she’s a huge asset to our team.”

As a testament to this creativity, Sarah highlighted ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’, the cocktail she is most proud of developing for Maybe Sammy. See the recipe here.

Sarah too, emphasises the strength of the team at Maybe Sammy in the strongest possible terms.

“Working in the Maybe Sammy team is the highlight of my career so far,” she says.

“For me the team and the people I surround myself with are the most important part as they shape me everyday, and I am so lucky and grateful to have mentors like Stefano, Martin and Vince, at this stage of my life.

For Stefano, it’s the social element of bartending that Sarah does so well.

“Sarah’s ability to read people and a room really sets her apart,” Stefano says.

“Her focus is always on the guests and their experience and she’s determined to make sure they leave the venue happier than before they arrived. Hospitality is such a vital part of the Maybe Sammy experience and Sarah plays a key role in bringing that to life for us.”

Stefano has touched upon something that Sarah herself has identified as a cornerstone to her drinks-making.

“Hospitality is everything,” the Bartender of the Year said.

“From the moment the guest walks through the door, till the farewell. It’s all about how people feel when they come to the bar. It’ss what is inside and outside of the glass like the little details in the room such as the lights, music, temperature, smell, the bathrooms, and the tidiness of the place.

“But ultimately it is the team that sets the vibe and creates the experience, that have the ability to read the room and elevate the experience by surprising the guests. Hospitality is going somewhere happy and leaving happier.”

This story was first published on Bars and Clubs, click here to subscribe to the weekly newsletter.

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