It is the morning after yet another big night at Havana Social, and we’re sitting next to Soho Hospitality’s group mixologist Davide Sambo. He’s the guy in charge of whatever you’re sipping and loving at the renowned group’s beloved outlets. He is the Brazil-born Italian that learned from London’s greats before moving to Bangkok three years ago. And just recently, he was given the proud title of the Chivas Master Thailand 2019. For the moment, though, he’s hankering on the outskirts of Hangover Town.
We’re catching up over cold beers and conversation, as Davide talks us through his bartending journey, the Bangkok bar industry, and the rise of Italian aperitivo culture in the Thai capital. Naturally, we’re sipping a Peroni. The birra superiore is the preferred choice for those with an effortlessly creative flair, and thereby suits Davide like delicate froth to a fresh brew. It is a beer that is celebrated for its quality, attention to detail, and craftsmanship since 1963. It is a balanced, and refreshing sip. It is a beverage of style. Both the man and the beer are a prime specimen of sorts.
Last night and late nights
Havana Social has long made a name for itself as one of the most popular speakeasy-style bars in the city. Located on Sukhumvit 11, the pre-revolutionary 1940s Cuban cocktail bar is heavily frequented by those with an affinity for Latin beats. Last night, they hosted a huge event. “I was here since 9 am,” explains Davide. “We had twelve guest shifts in one evening, so I had to sort out all the recipes and the ingredients for them. There were about 150-300 people coming. It was pretty busy, but it was a fun night.”
After all, buzzing and fun is how Davide likes it. The self-proclaimed control freak often has many projects going on at the same time. He admits, “I do go crazy sometimes, but it’s mostly a matter of organisation. I like to be organised.” It’s important, given that the bartender has completed almost 50 events in just the first half of the year. Guest shifts are a huge trend at the minute, especially in Asia, and the bar industry has evolved into a warm, close-knit community. Asked about what he does in his free time, Davide explains, “one of my favourite things to do is to get street food and beers at the stall near the Bamboo Bar with team and industry friends.”
In many ways, some things — like grabbing a beer with your pals — are international. Peroni too is enjoyed across the globe, founded in 1846 in Pavia province, before rising to become one of the most popular beers in the country and the continent. Today, the beer carries its rooted Italian values for quality and craftsmanship around the whole world, and indeed, is best enjoyed with food and friends.
Yet for Davide, before Bangkok, it wasn’t always cold ones and krapow. The young bartender was born in Brazil, before moving to Italy from a very young age. Like many others in the industry, he never really intended to be behind the bar. “I studied commercial law at university, and I actually really enjoyed it. However, one summer I interned at my father’s office, who is a lawyer, and I absolutely hated it. I was 22, almost 23, and suddenly didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life anymore.” It was here that Davide started to fall into the trance all too familiar for those who now know and love the bar scene. Whilst he grew up drinking red wine (“I never drink wine anymore, it gives me such a bad headache”), before graduating to Negronis and the occasional one or seven Long Island Iced Teas, he fell into a few bartending gigs that got him curious. “I started bartending for a friend, just mixing simple drinks. Gin and tonics, things like that. It was fun being with guests, and I began to experiment with a little mixology.” From here, Davide moved to London, in first line to enhance his English skills, but also to learn from some of the local industry’s greats, and wholly immerse himself into the craft.
He boasts a flair that is familiar. Much like Davide’s cocktails, Peroni Nastro Azzuo is brewed using a creative blend of only the finest aromatic hops with two-row spring malted barley, and Quarter Italian maize. And where the bartender hails from Europe before coming to Asia, the maize in Peroni too is exclusively selected from Nostrano dell’Isola in the Bergamo region, before being blended into the beer. Origins are essential.
“The Bangkok bar scene has developed so much in the three years since I moved here. So many new bars have opened. So many new, young, and talented bartenders are coming. Thailand won the Chivas competition. Thailand won the Bacardi Legacy. Campari too. All these great competitions and great bartenders — Thailand is making a noise around the world. That’s the reason I came here.”
Of course, it is no secret. We have 7 acclaimed bars to boast about on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, we have a sprinkling of new places to check out just about every month, and no matter what day of the week it is, Bangkokians are always in the spirits — both figuratively and sometimes literally — to kick back and have a good time. Going out to bars in Bangkok is a stylish affair, and so it is only natural that a Peroni quickly becomes a go-to choice for any man or woman about town. Recognised by its beautifully embossed Peroni Nastro Azzuro bottle and often accompanying branded glass, the beer knows that it is not only about taste, but about fashion and experience, too. Peroni glassware in itself is an instantly identifiable icon, most noted for its elegantly etched Amaretti design. Yet just as elegantly linked, the connection goes even beyond this.
Thai trends, Italian traditions
Davide recalls drinking culture in Italy, and reminisces about the Italian spirits and beers to be an integral part of everyday life. Meals are always accompanied by these — before, during, and after, and he remembers, “my father is always seated with a glass of wine. It’s healthy!”
Yet Thailand too is currently abuzz with a drinking trend that feels very much Italian: aperitivo culture. The idea that you have a drink before going for dinner has long been embedded in Italian everyday life, and has recently made its way over to Bangkok with much love. It’s effortless, like a glass of wine or a pint of beer, so as to set the tone for the night, and as a conversational pregame for food. In fact, Peroni has long been a propagator of aperitivo traditions both at home and abroad. Granted, we do things a little bit differently here, even Davide admits. “In Italy, it’s more like, after work, you go to your favourite spot. It’s normally a little bar, and you have a little buffet. Few people know that food is actually also part of aperitivo. You have a slice of pizza, you talk to your friends, and you order a Negroni, an Aperol, or a Peroni.”
Yet somehow, even if we do it a little differently in Bangkok, there’s a beauty in the concept. ‘L’aperitivo di Peroni’ embraces a culture of sharing, catching up, and conviviality. In many ways it doesn’t matter whether it’s pizza or pad Thai, but rather that you’re in good company, and that you’re bonding over beer and banter. It’s an activity of style, a remnant of age-old Mediterranean tradition, and a universal heritage. “On weekends, sometimes I wouldn’t even go for dinner. Just aperitivo. It’s a good time.”
More to the tipple
The idea is an intriguing one, wherein the beverage is just one of many components in the drinking experience. With Peroni, a lot of the appeal lies in the flavour, history, and design, yet a part of it also lies in the ritual and experience of being served the beer. The fount, for one, features a striking blue ribbon, which immediately catches the eye of anyone who enters the bar. The art of serving the beer — be it bottle or draught — is a craft and a ritual all in itself. The skill of the pouring, and the anticipation of the act makes up a big part of the experience. Naturally, the one crafting the experience plays the biggest role of all.
“Nowadays it’s cool to be a bartender, and I get a lot of applications,” Davide continues. “Yet some people don’t know the meaning of hospitality. Some people don’t know what it is. It’s not just being a host and being nice to people, doing a good service. It’s about caring about your guests in a genuine way. You actually want the person to have a good time. That’s the reason why I chose this job. I like to be with people, and I like to make jokes.”
It’s an ethos that is innate to the Italian bartender, and one that he carries through to his dreams for his ideal bar. “A bartender is so much more than drinks. You want your guests to leave knowing your name. You want to remember the person who served you the drink. You may forget the drink, but you won’t forget the bartender if he is a good one.” Probing further along this, we ask Davide, what would you serve at the bar that you plan to open one day? “The idea is to focus on the hospitality aspect. Say you’re alone at the bar and you just want to grab a beer. I want you to stay for at least an hour. Why? You’re having a conversation with the staff, you’re having a good time. If there are cocktails, these have to be good of course, but you’re more likely to come back to chat with the bartender who can talk for hours than for that one exact drink.”
Davide’s referring to himself, we assume, and it’s true.
Havana Social is located at 1/1 Sukhumvit Road Soi 11, and is open daily from 6pm to 2am. They also serve Peroni beer. You know who to find.
More about Peroni
Known as the Italian beer of style, Peroni Nastro Azzurro is a crisp and refreshing beer with an unmistakeable character. Founded in 1846, the first Peroni brewery had its home in Vigevano, and to this very day, still bears the very same name. The beer was designed for the Mediterranean palate, yet is now enjoyed worldwide as an aperitivo or alongside a meal. It is characterised by a balanced flavour of bitterness, with notes of citrus and a spicy aromatic flavour. The finish is surprisingly fast and clean. To date, Peroni is the number one premium Italian beer.