For the first column showcasing our sisterhood of taste and experience, we meet Maura Milia, manager of the 5-star, multi-award-winning bar at The Connaught in London. Internationally recognized for service and style, The Connaught Bar was recently named to the top spot on the 50 World’s Best Bars list for 2020.
Hailing from a small town in Italy, a gap-year trip to London has led Maura on the path that has seen her rapidly rise the ranks of an industry that has long been overshadowed by men.
To be the Bar Manager at a 5-star hotel is accomplishment enough, but to have won the top spot in the 50 Best Bars in the World Awards in 2020 is particularly amazing—congratulations! Where are you from and what was your first job?
I’m from a very small town in Sardinia, Italy. I studied human sciences, so nothing really related to hospitality. It’s only when I moved to London for a sabbatical year that I started my journey in the hospitality industry. Needless to say, it was love at first sight and I never looked back.
What steps have you taken in your career that brought you to where you are right now?
I started as a waitress in a boutique hotel in South Kensington at the age of 19 where I learnt the foundations of hospitality. From there, I developed my knowledge and background working in a handful of different food and beverage environments, from fine dining restaurants to classic cocktail bars.
In 2014, I joined The Connaught, where I realised how much I wanted to be part of the vision of this wonderful hotel and The Connaught bar itself. It’s been with the great support of the hotel’s development programme that I shaped my career, which has led me to where I am today.
The past year has been really challenging for everyone in the hospitality industry. What has helped keep you busy (and sane) during this time?
The past year has been challenging for all of us, but I’ve tried to stay positive. Just after the lockdown was announced, I volunteered with Maybourne Hotels (owners of The Connaught) to support the NHS carers and the homeless. As I was furloughed, I found myself with a lot of free time, it was the least that I could do to support the community and help those who really needed it.
The Connaught Bar team never stopped being engaged, we were forever staying connected via zoom and kept planning ahead for the reopening. To keep me sane, I cycled a lot around London and I loved it. The quietness was eerie, but I really got to see London in its true beauty without all the distractions. It’s something I will never forget and forever cherish as I remember to look up and appreciate my surroundings more.
What is your favourite cocktail to make?
My favourite cocktail to make is The Connaught Martini: our most iconic cocktail for 12 years. We approach the table with our bespoke martini trolley and we prepare the cocktail in front of the guests giving them the opportunity to personalise it with our selection of bespoke bitters. It’s the most wonderful way of interacting and connecting with our guests.
What would be your favourite cocktail to drink—especially this time of year?
If I’m not drinking a martini, French 75 will be my other choice. Especially this time of the year. It’s fresh, zesty and bubbly. I love gin and I love champagne, so what better combination?
Maura, your Instagram is not just filled with gorgeous photos (many of which are making us quite thirsty), but you also advocate for elevating, supporting, and mentoring women in the hospitality industry—what are some of the obstacles you have been able to overcome on your career path?
I’m part of a generation that joined the bar industry when things were already changing. I was lucky enough to join a very progressive environment where if you are driven by passion and determination for the job, there is no difference if you are a woman; you can still build your own space. For sure, there are many other realities in the bar industry that are still predominantly run by men, however, with the many platforms created to empower women in hospitality and the power of social media, I truly believe that there is no better time to be working in this wonderful industry.
What are you hoping to help change in the industry over the next year, 5 years, or 10 years?
Together with so many other colleagues that are already doing an incredible work, I will use my voice and platform as much as I can to support and inspire the future generations of women wanting to join the hospitality, showing them that it is possible to succeed and have a place in this industry. Rather than change, we just need to continue building an environment that empowers women and gives them the same opportunities as men.
What are your top 5 service tips for dealing with high-end clientele at a world-class hotel bar?
Treat everyone as if they were the most important person in the room
Actively listen to the guest so that you can establish a real connection
Be curious, go to museums, read, eat and drink out, confront yourself with others who are not necessarily from your industry
Continually work on your product knowledge (will save you from the fear of not being able to answer the guests’ questions and go that extra mile)
Always smile and be positive
What are your can’t-live-without items in your personal liquor cabinet?
Champagne in the fridge, gin and vermouth in the cabinet.
As bar manager at The Connaught, you meet people from all over the world (and probably some of the most successful and famous, to boot)—you must have some amazing stories…do you have any funny ones to share?
We truly treasure all our guests, and certainly have some amazing stories. We first welcomed two guests at The Connaught Bar several years ago, they were on their first date. They continued to visit, and throughout this time, we’ve seen them they get engaged, then married, then have a baby! We were lucky to meet the little boy before lockdown. Every time they visited, they always sit at the same table.
Would you be willing to share a spring-inspired cocktail recipe to tide us over until we can join you at The Connaught in person?
The Fleurissimo is a champagne cocktail, perfect to enjoy any time of year – and rather fitting now as we begin to reconnect with our loved ones and raise our glasses to many celebratory moments which were, perhaps, put on hold during lockdown.
1 white sugar cube
5 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
5ml violet liqueur
15ml Remy Martin VSOP cognac
Top up with champagne
A rose petal
Soak the sugar cube with Peychaud’s Bitters and gently drop into the champagne coupe filled with the violet liqueur and Remy Martin VSOP cognac. Top up with champagne and garnish with a rose petal.