Last year, bartender Sambonn Lek said goodbye to the Town & Country Lounge, where he had calmed more frayed nerves than a therapy dog, before the Mayflower Renaissance Hotel closed and replaced the outdated bar. On Friday, the Cambodian native will say goodbye to the Mayflower — and to the United States, where he has, for more than 35 years, mixed drinks for some of his adopted country’s most powerful residents.
“God sent me to the United States to serve a purpose and care for my first, beloved home of Cambodia,” Lek wrote in a farewell note that he sent Wednesday to friends, relatives and longtime Mayflower patrons.
“Now, He takes me back to where I belong so that I can take the next pivotal step in my journey,” Lek continued. “I am both excited and sad to inform you that I am returning to Cambodia and leaving the Washington, D.C., area, and the Mayflower, my home for the past 36 years.”
In his note, Lek mentioned the many awards he earned while serving as the Mayflower’s main bottle slinger, from employee of the year to a best bartender nod from Washingtonian magazine. But his proudest accomplishments, he noted, are personal, such as Sam Relief, Inc,, the charity he founded in 1999 to provide “education and educational resources to the impoverished children of Cambodia.”
To say that Sambonn Lek had a good run at the Mayflower would be like saying Harry Potter books sell well with children. No matter who wandered into his bar, celebrity or tourist, the man simply known as “Sam” was courteous to a fault, inserting “sir” into his sentences like some people use commas. He loved magic tricks. He knew your favorite drink, or even the last one you had when you were in.
It’s time to raise a toast to the man who fixed so many cocktails for toasting. Or as Lek asked in his farewell message (with unfailing courtesy of course):
“My last day at the Mayflower will be on Friday, July 13. Please pass through to say goodbye. I would be very happy to see you.”