First Look: what to expect at Bar Sumi, a new bar from Maybe Sammy alum

There is no traditional menu at this new cocktail and whisky bar from Wen Wang.

First Look: what to expect at Bar Sumi, a new bar from Maybe Sammy alum
Wen Wang at Bar Sumi in Sydney. Photo: Boothby

If you’ve stepped inside Maybe Sammy over the last few years, you know Wen Wang. Wen has spent the last four years holding down the point station at the bar — the first corner of the bar as you walk in — making it his own with a mix of precise technique, an irreverent sense of humour, and generous hospitality. He has been a key player in the bar’s recent successes (including multiple appearances on The World’s 50 Best Bars list).

Wen, who moved to Australia from Taiwan in 2017, had worked at NOLA Barangaroo and Merivale’s whisky-focused bar, J&M, before stepping behind the stick at Maybe Sammy in 2020.

Now, the 36 year old Wen has traded the pastel pink jackets of Maybe Sammy for a smart, double-breasted charcoal jacket — and the opening of his first bar, with co-owner and bartender Ben McLeod (ex-Assembly Bar).

Wen says that he has been working on opening Bar Sumi for the past six months, and the bar opened its doors to family and friends this past weekend. It’s a small space — there’s room for just 26 guests at a time — and it is tucked away behind an escalator on the Regent Place complex at the top of Chinatown on George Street. And whereas Maybe Sammy is all brightness and pastels, Bar Sumi takes a different approach.

Bar Sumi in Sydney. Photo: Boothby
Bar Sumi in Sydney. Photo: Boothby

The design of the bar — and the name — is inspired by ink and charcoal, says Wen. “Sumi, is charcoal, it also means ink,” he says. “And in Japanese it also means corner,” a reference to Wen’s time holding down the point at Maybe Sammy.

“It’s an Asian vibe. I mean, Taiwanese and Japanese, we do cocktails in a very similar way.”

The space is chic and serious, with a colour palette of moody charcoals, black and stainless steel — the only sense of the natural world comes by way of a 40 year old bonsai plant occupying centre stage on the back bar.

But Wen still brings his signature levity and joy to Bar Sumi. It’s there in the approach to service. There are two bar backs on shift for two bartenders, Wen says. “The bartenders should have the time to talk to people,” he says.

The bartenders will need that time, too, because Wen has done away with a traditional cocktail menu, instead relying on the bartenders to have a conversation with guests and make recommendations.

When at work behind the stick at Bar Sumi. Photo: Boothby
When at work behind the stick at Bar Sumi. Photo: Boothby

“We can make all the classic cocktails,” says Wen. “That’s a normal bar base to me.”

But Wen is also exploring his interest in using tea — in all its various guises — to enhance the cocktail experience.

“The idea is to give people options,” says Wen. “I have the Margarita, or I have a Margarita made with sencha.”

On the back bar, Wen has a big range of American and Scottish whiskies. The thinking here, he says, is that while the cocktails mean a conversation between guest and bartender, there is comfort — and less interaction required — on the back bar.

“It’s more focused on whiskey,” Wen says. “It’s gonna make people more relaxed — they can choose whatever they want.”

They have also done away with the wine list, opting instead for a selection of sake. “We serve it in a wine glass — like drinking wine, so you can enjoy the taste, smell, and all the rice flavour,” says Wen.

Bar Sumi is open Wednesday to Monday, taking Tuesdays off, and trading from 5pm to midnight every day.

You can find Bar Sumi on the lower level of Regent Place, 501 George Street, Sydney. And give them a follow on Instagram, at @bar_sumi_sydney.