Proleung Khmer

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Building Schools

Bartender of the Month: January 2005
By Fritz Hahn
The Washington Post online
Saturday, January 1, 2005;

Who: Sambonn "Sam" LekWhere:The Town & Country Lounge (Inside the Mayflower Hotel)

Why we like him: A legend on the Washington bar scene, Sambonn "Sam" Lekcame to the United States from Cambodia in 1974 and got a job as adishwasher at Blackie's. Two years later, the Mayflower Hotel's Town andCountry Lounge hired him (straight out of hotel/motel school); and he'sbeen behind the bar ever since, welcoming a steady stream of regulars. (Samsays he sent out about 3,000 Christmas cards to customers last month.)

There are 101 cocktails on the menu, and "We change them a lot," Samexplains. "If some of them don't sell, we'll make new ones." Mostsuggestions come from customers. "Let's say you like litchis. Well, I canmake a drink with litchis. Or you say you like one drink, but you say you'dlike it sweeter. I can try something new." He's using this knowledge towrite a book of cocktail recipes.

But Sam's customers don't just come see him because he's a master drinkmaker. They come because he's friendly and remembers names and favoritedrinks. He does magic tricks, too, making $20 bills levitate or change intoa pair of tens in the blink of an eye.

Sam is also the president and founder of the charity Sam Relief. So far,Sam Relief has built six schools in Cambodia, and "in 2005, we will build three more," he says proudly. The money comes from donations from regulars,as well as special fundraising happy hours in the lounge. (You can find outmore about the organization at

Like clockwork, you'll find Sam behind the Mayflower's bar from 5 p.m. to 2a.m. Monday through Friday. Well, not always -- every July, Sam says, hegoes to Cambodia to work with his charity for six weeks or so.

What's YOUR favorite drink?Personally, I drink very little, but when I'm out with my wife, I'll drinka little red wine. But I don't drink -- my body doesn't like it.

What's the drink you make most often?A lot of Sam-I-Am (Ketel One Citroen, cranberry juice and Amaretto), Cosmosand the Apple Tree, which is my version of an Apple Martini. We makemojitos, too -- we use the right sugar, which is why it tastes differentlythan everywhere else.

What was the last drink you didn't know how to make?It's hard. We had a customer from California who asked for something, butlet's put it this way -- If you go to California and ask for a Sam-I-Am,they won't know what it is. But I like to learn from my customers; if theylike something, I like to learn how to make it.

What do you have to do to get '86ed?Have too much to drink. But I usually just tell them, "Sir, you've had toomuch, let's have some coffee."

What's the best pickup line you've ever overheard?Actually, I can usually tell, "Oh, you like her," or "You like him." SoI'll ... do a magic trick and it gives them something to talk about.
What song do you wish they'd take off the jukebox?[The piano player] doesn't bother me. They usually don't repeat too manysongs. The thing that bothers me are customers' cell phones, when they ringand they don't answer them.

The first sign a patron's drunk is:Blurred red eyes, the way they talk, they spill drinks.
Have you ever dated/gone home with someone you met while you were working?Oh no, I can't. A lot of women love me a lot, but I can't do it. I'mmarried.

How cheap are people, really? You get rich people and poor people. I say: You win some and you lose some.But I treat them all the same.

What piece of bar etiquette do you wish people would learn?Be friendly, be courteous and be honest.

Give us a piece of advice.We all have good and bad days. After rain, we can have a beautiful day.


He's better than the RGC when he helps do fund raising to build schools in Cambodia. He's a man of action.


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