"All men are created equal" is an unforgivably-overused phrase taken directly from The United States Declaration of Independence.
And whether you agree with it or not, the big question I want everyone wants to know is: can the same be applied to bars?
With the recent opening of Swift in Soho – a new concept and hangout from four of the nightlife industry’s most renowned talents – I can confirm that the answer is a definite, a resounding, an incontrovertible…no.
No they are not.
The Venue & Concept
Split over two floors and located in the heart of Soho on Old Compton Street, Swift opened in late 2016 and is the brainchild of Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson (the pair responsible for the internationally-acclaimed Nightjar and Oriole), along with Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson (who honed their skills at the likes of Milk & Honey and the recently awarded best bar in the world, Dead Rabbit in NYC). Being the product of such renowned nightlife pedigree, the stakes were high for this new hangout, and with that – fairly or unfairly - it undoubtedly also attracted a higher amount of expectation ahead of its launch.
The upstairs of the venue is a dynamic space dedicated to those who fancy a quick (or perhaps, swift) drink or two, with sharp furniture, a splattering of standing-tables and a slick modern bar. As you can safely expect from the best mixologists in the business, the concept centres on excellent and innovative drinks, but the key here is guests don’t have to put up with the standard, slow fussy service. Instead, you can pop in for a few quick drinks or light bites, without the ordinary rigmarole that this calibre of outpost usually entails.
If you’re in for a longer haul, downstairs at Swift is where you want to be. (And helpfully, it's also where you can book in advance). Emulating a similar-ish vibe to Nightjar – given its close quarter-seating and subterranean feel – the space is intimate and cool, with art-deco fixtures throughout. Promising a slightly darker approach from the crisp cocktail and oyster menu upstairs, down here you can expect more complex drinks, and quite possibly the biggest whisky library you’ll find in London.
The Food & Drink
Though not a place for dinner, Swift does have a food menu, mainly consisting of lighter bites, and more interestingly, a fresh selection of native rock oysters. The first thing I noticed looking at the separate menus for upstairs and downstairs though, is how starkly different they are. The upstairs – true to its namesake – promises unfussy, quick and fresh cocktails (along with a few classics), all priced around the £10-£12 mark. But in my opinion, downstairs is where the magic happens. There’s a huge amount of choice in their basement space; notwithstanding from the ten-page-long-list of domestic and international whiskies, the cocktail choice is impressive too, promising the exact level of drama, expertise and uniqueness you’d expect from a bar of this standard. Though I think there’s a chance some of their cocktails are slightly over-complicated, the highlights on the night were the Desert Rose (olmeca Altos, Cocchi Rosa, Campari, yellow plum - £10), a boozy mix with complex flavours, and the beautifully presented Curtain Call (basil Hayden, rooibos syrup, lemon, Amere Sauvage, Saison - £11) - both were good, but moreover, they were memorable. And with an immense amount of competition in this area of the industry, that's important.
It’s also worth remembering that Swift has a dual approach; on one side, it’s a quick, pit-stop hangout for brilliant drinks, and on the other, it’s a worthy destination-bar of the highest calibre, and as such the downstairs menu reflects that.
With its location and its forward-thinking approach to high-end mixology; Swift is a non-pretentious place that doesn’t take itself too seriously. They’re set up for live entertainment (head over for live piano sets on the weekend), but even without it, the vibe is buzzy across both floors. The servers here are fun, quick and really know what they’re talking about with the drinks, and that makes a difference. Don’t expect big tables and massive amounts of room, but do expect a convivial, lively and mixed crowd throughout the week and weekends.
The expectation of Swift was high. Really high. But together with their friendly approach, the quick turnaround concept, and their basement space which still feels like you’re being let in on one of Soho's safest secrets; it's pretty easy to see they've nailed it already.