Sam's celebrity concoctions have included 'Lime and Direct' for AJ Tracey and 'Burn, Baby, Burn' for Bernie SandersSam Heap

I didn’t wait long before Sam came bustling into the bar.

Always the host with the most, he offers me a refreshment before eventually sitting down himself, though his eagerness to keep his guest content never leaves during our conversation.

Sam Heap became head barman of the Cambridge Union’s bar, The Orator, seven years ago. His passion for his job is instantly obvious. “Having run some pretty rough places, coming here is the promised land,” he tells me. “It’s mega stressful at times, particularly with a new business, but I love my job. You’re never bored.”

Bartending runs in the family. His grandparents ran the Four Saint Georges for thirty years, his parents the Panton Arms in the nineties and his grandma was even a librarian at the Union in the sixties.

“One minute you’re a showman, next minute you’re a counsellor”

Heap’s experience has held him in good stead for his current role. “Coming in here, you need that all-rounder experience; one minute you’re a showman, next minute you’re a bouncer, next minute you’re a counsellor, then the next minute you’re sorting out Robert de Niro’s pork loin.”

Beyond working the bar ordinarily, Sam greets the Union’s guests, helping them relax before they go into the chamber with a specially made cocktail (or mocktail in the case of Jeremy Corbyn) and serving them dinner — sometimes consoling them afterwards with another drink following a tough debate.

Some of the cocktails Sam has crafted for his celebrity guests are the work of a creative genius. He tells me of Bernie Sanders’ ‘Burn, Baby, Burn,’ cocktail, and AJ Tracey’s ‘Lime and Direct’ which was presented to him in a box containing dry ice. The signed box remains behind the bar, where Heap tells me they “keep as much memorabilia as possible.”

“Your Jeremy Corbyns and Theresa Mays” will have mocktails, whilst other guests have stranger requests. Jordan Peterson, Sam recalls, ate three steaks, whilst Stormzy had lots of grilled cheese sandwiches and Bill Gates had Tracker bars and a Diet Coke. Oliver Stone, a film director, who arrived late, had a double shot Americano with two shots of espresso on the side; “just to perk him up a bit before he went into the Chamber.”

Mark Hamill, Sam’s favourite speaker so far (he’s a massive Star Wars fan), “only had an English Breakfast with milk on the side,” as he had to rush off to film The Last Jedi.

Guests are treated to other Union traditions, such as rubbing out the message of the last Union speaker and writing their own message on the chalkboard in the bar. Katie Price, rather unsurprisingly, wrote something “wildly inappropriate.” “She was everything you’d expect her to be”, recalling that he made her a Pink Chambord apple cocktail: ‘The Pricey’. Martin Lewis’ blackboard message, on the other hand, strayed from his usual financial pearls of wisdom, advising instead: “If it’s brown, flush it down, if it’s yellow, let it mellow.”

“Kevin Rudd pulled the perfect pint”

Sam also holds pint-pulling competitions with his guests, a skill which has produced mixed results. “Caitlyn Jenner was the worst”, drawing last with the Prince of Liechtenstein, whilst Kevin Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister, pulled the perfect pint. It “couldn’t have been better.”

The constant excitement and variety of events Sam oversees, from weddings to Union balls, are clearly something he thrives on. Yet it must be hard to switch off from the job at the end of a long day?

“I’m a bit of a workaholic”, Sam admits. “It’s more of a lifestyle than a job really, and you have to want to do it…I’m constantly checking in, and I do struggle to sort of let go a little bit. If you’re trying to get perfection, then you have to work at it a little bit as well. With the current staffing crisis, we’re working hard towards it.” He jokes that he’ll be working five days a week soon.


Mountain View

Green You can look at the classical world differently.'

Spending nearly everyday behind the bar next door to the Cambridge Union, one of the world’s oldest continuous debating societies, Sam has had many interesting encounters. But he is extremely discreet about the less enjoyable experiences: “It’s running bars…you’re selling alcohol, there’s going to be times when people have had too much before they came here.”

Does he have views on the Union itself? He admits that “we haven’t got time to get involved in major union politics”, but he does notice when the Union presidency changes hands. “I get a new boss every three months, and usually they’re 19 to 24 years old”, he chuckles. “My blood pressure is at a constant high, but I’ve never had a bad one. They’ve all been very very good to me, and good for the Society as well.”

The Union and its high profile guests is certainly the bar’s USP. But Heap also sees the bar as bridging the divide between town and gown. “If you’re a tourist or member of the general public, the University is quite an out-there thing…the separation between town and gown is quite large. They can’t just walk into a College or College bar — we’re the closest thing they can possibly get to that.”

Sam’s pride for his job leaves me with the rare satisfaction of having met someone who genuinely loves what they do. “Everyday is a different story”, he remarks as he returns to thinking up cocktails for the next star who’ll come to his bar.