The Pinnacle Guide

Swift Soho

London, UK

This two-story venue is home to two very different bars, a bright homage to aperitivo drinking upstairs and a cosy whisky-themed basement.

Walk-ins only upstairs
Reservations available downstairs
Accessible venue

AREAS OF EXCELLENCE

AREAS OF EXCELLENCE

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ENVIRONMENTAL ENDEAVOURS

Swift works to find suppliers from the local area as much as possible and those who are B Corp certified. They prioritise the use of ecoSPIRITS kegs and returnable pouches and have developed an ordering system that records any wastage, no matter how small, of any citrus, dairy etc, every night. They use this to create incredibly accurate par levels and therefore almost nothing goes to waste.

DETAILS OF NOTE

The space that Swift now occupies was once LAB bar, a London institution and one any self-confessed bar geek should have heard of. When it was taken over, Swift’s owners sold all the fixtures and fittings, including the bar, and donated the proceeds to The Drinks Trust, a hospitality-based charity. The build to transform the shell of a venue took just eight weeks from start to finish.

The Pinnacle Guide

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Swift Soho is a unique venue of two halves, a bright and elegant upstairs bar and a rich and cosy downstairs, each with their own menu, own atmosphere and often different types of guests. Throughout the space there are a lot of consistencies though, found in the style of drinks and the team’s easy and warm service.

Swift’s upstairs bar, which is on street level, is based loosely on the concept of afternoon drinks in Europe; Champagne bars and aperitivo cafes. Its simple design of pastel blue walls, marble counters, mirrors and the enamel bartop is welcoming but also transient, ideal for those stopping for a quick cocktail pre-dinner or post-work. With a street-facing window on one of Soho’s busiest streets, upstairs is also ideal for guests who love a side of people-watching with their cocktails. 

The back bar upstairs is the true stand-out design feature, custom built it uses mirrors, glass, enamel and stainless steel, with dramatic light boxes above, in the style of the aperitivo bars the owners were inspired by. Here drinks are rotated seasonally and lean towards lighter, more approachable flavours. There’s of course an aperitivo section and a non-alcoholic list among the house cocktails. 

This is flipped downstairs, with a space more akin to a British pub. Lighting is dimmed, the decor is wood, dark browns and deep blues and the seating is cosy booths in contrast to upstairs counters. If the street level is for people-watching, the basement at Swift is much more of an escape for guests, looking to suspend time and reality. Things kick up a notch on the weekends, with Swift hosting live music every Saturday and Sunday; usually pianists or a jazz duo which compliment the space perfectly.

Downstairs is also home to the bar’s large whisky collection which is extensive with more than 300 bottles. The size of the collection isn’t the most notable part though – it’s the curation that is interesting as the team work hard to find unique, rare and hard-to-find bottles, which they price to be as inclusive as possible – even a dram from the most expensive bottlings can be purchased more affordably than elsewhere. 

Cocktails on the lower floor are only changed annually, with a few staples such as the bar’s best-selling Irish Coffee remaining, and are generally more complex than upstairs, being based on darker spirits. Overall, cocktails at Swift, regardless of what level a guest finds themselves on, have the backbone of a classic. Simple is better is the moto and everything is replicable here with a juicer, a blender and a hob – no rotavap required. Presentation follows this ethos with clean, elegant glassware and minimal garnishes but still delivering visually stunning drinks, over clear ice that is hand-cut for each drink. 

Swift’s team is very involved in all drink creation and this shines through in their service, with the team easily able to guide guests to the best drink for their palate. The friendly staff take pride in how they look after guests which adds to the easy and relaxing atmosphere. 

Staff development is taken very seriously, and regardless of previous experience, everybody starts as a barback to learn the bones of the business. To progress, individuals must then take several tests including various cocktail tests each larger than the last, eventually including more than 200 custom recipes, and questions about the surrounding area and recommendations. Staff will then progress through all the different roles throughout the bar. There is no limit on the number of senior staff within Swift, and so as soon as a team member is ready, they will be promoted. Beyond beverage training – which encompasses many advanced techniques such as multi-serving, large round-building, jigger efficiency and bottle touching – staff have the option of learning back of house operations to build their skills for one day opening their own bar.

Work aside – the team are very close and every day they make communal staff food together. They have several staff parties a year, where they close the bar and all head out together, and they also socialise together on their days off. Swift are a member of the Soho Business Alliance, ensuring they are a part of the thriving local community.

“I felt immediately relaxed, welcome and excited to be in the venue. I was on my own and couldn't have felt more comfortable. It had the sense of 'coming home' and that warm hug you get from an upscale 'pub' bar.”

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