You either know Sammy’s or you don’t. Those who do know, have a die-hard loyalty to the bar. The powerful welcoming feeling you get is probably enough to start a small cult (but he’s far too nice a guy to do that).
So what’s the appeal? The place has no back bar, 1 vodka, 1 gin, 1 rum and only a choice of 3 tinnies. But, in his own words,
“What we sell isn’t why you come. You come because you feel at home, you feel like you’re in my lounge. This is your space – your bar.”
Sammy is an old hand at this; his Israeli mum taught him the importance of hospitality (thank god for mums). After starting a Camden street food business, and opening a high-end, 2-floor restaurant in South London, he’s going back to basics and returning to his roots in Manchester.
“It was a big, big operation, and as much as I loved it, I just love getting to know people.”
“Other bars in Manchester do way better than me, make way more money than me – but I’m just here to do what I love doing. And that’s it.”
And it’s so refreshing to watch someone seeking success that isn’t monetary. It’s become the default for businesses that receive any success to immediately start seeking expansion & growth. But Sammy’s is something to be crystallized. It’s something really special.
It’s also rare for a bar with only 5 months behind it to have so strong an identity, but Sammy considered every centimetre of his space for a whole year before launching. “I waited 4 months until this place was available. And then, I saw it… It was fucking horrible!”
After some (necessary) renovations, Sammy’s is a photographer’s dream. I can only relate it to ‘The Shining’ if it was directed by Wes Anderson. The interior is an irreverent mix of sunny 70s wallpaper (found in its original packaging in Germany) and abandoned, NYC ghost-diners. Something so familiar, but like nothing you’ve ever seen before.
“I think the best compliment I get is people coming here and going: ‘oh, so is this what it looked like when you took over?'”
Actually, Sammy designed the bar as a movie set. And as soon as he says it, it’s so obvious.
“I wanted it to look exactly the same every time you came – like a picture – so no moving parts. And it pretty much is, apart from maybe 2 things and a chair. A lot of people feel that if you keep adding, it’s going to make the space better. But, it actually shows a lack of confidence in the space that you’ve created.”
Exterior-wise, there’s even less. Only a small neon ‘open’ sign and the happy hours hand-written on a piece of paper. “The outside is sort of like a barrier – you have to make the effort to come in.” And the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.
In honour of that spirit, (for traditions sake), I won’t leave the address below. Obviously, Google exists, and it takes 3 taps and a click to find it yourself. But the point still stands: find it yourself.
Don’t go if you’re not going to make friends. Don’t go if you don’t want a personal greeting and goodbye from Sammy himself. Don’t go if you prioritise IPAs over atmosphere. Evidently, the greatness of Sammy’s lies in the hands of the customers. “That place’s soul does not live without the people that come in.”
“I don’t know if it’s brave or stupid. I’d actually say it’s stubborn. But, if I believe in something? I’m going to die on that hill.”
I, along with many other regulars, will be on that hill with him. And it isn’t looking like death’s on the agenda.