Swift: The three most important things in a bar are lighting, music and heating

Having unveiled a new cocktail menu that shines a light on green, savoury flavours, Swift’s Bobby Hiddleston tells db about the inspiration behind the new serves and how light, sound and temperature can change the perception of flavour.

The downstairs bar, Swift.

Since it was founded in 2016, Soho’s Swift has risen through the ranks and is now regularly showered with accolades, most recently winning ‘best bar’ at the GQ Food and Drink Awards.

Run by cocktail supremos Bobby Hiddleston and Mia Johansson with Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson, it straddles two floors – the upstairs a bright, sleek drop-in bar, the downstairs a hommage to the New York speakeasy designed for more drawn-out drinking. The menus reflect the different atmospheres, with the ground floor’s serves leaning towards lighter spirits while the basement has a whisky focus.

“We change a drink or two on the upstairs menu frequently – every four weeks, roughly, as that menu is much more seasonal. The downstairs menu we change annually,” said Hiddleston.

Asked how long the new menu, which is designed for the downstairs bar (but available on request upstairs too), took to develop, Hiddleston said: “From start to finish, the whole process took about four months.

“Our processes are very rigorous – even if we think a drink is perfect first time, we will check and re-check various iterations just to make sure. A lot of the drinks start and finish as entirely different concepts, though – the Serenade in particular changed style at least three times before we made a drink we were all happy with”.

Upstairs at Swift

When it comes to creating a new menu, Hiddleston says that they try to avoid having a set theme.

“We know roughly what our guests like to drink, so when creating a menu we will do our best to create drinks that we believe they will like – our first menu did not have enough gin drinks on it to match demand, for example, so we knew for the second we would need more,” he said.

“In terms of complementary flavours, I like to start with a very simple one-or-two flavour concept, and expand from there. Mia sees flavour in colours, so when she creates drinks, the various colours of the different flavours have to be in harmony”.

This focus on the visual aspect of the drinking experience, as well as balance and harmony, is at the heart of proceedings at Swift, according to Hiddleston.

“I’ve said this before, but the last thing a person goes into a bar for is a drink. It sounds counterintuitive, but the three most important things in a bar are things that most guests aren’t even aware of – lighting, music, heating. If these three elements are in harmony, the drinks will taste better, their company will be more entertaining, and they will stay for another round. If any one of these three are off, the guest might not realise why but they perhaps won’t want to stay as long,” he added.

Swift’s Irish Coffee

“Lighting and music are hugely important in bars. I think further research needs to be done on whether these elements literally make a drink taste different, but I firmly believe a guest’s perception of the same drink is affected by these factors”.

While the accolades have helped Swift to build its reputation, it is developing a strong team that Hiddleston feels is the most important thing that he’s done.

“The team is, by far, the most important element of the bar. They represent the bar, and if they are happy then it shows, both to the guests and the rest of the team.

“Critical acclaim and awards are always going to be fantastic, however I honestly feel the best thing we have done is create a team that we can trust so implicitly, that understand what we do at Swift, and that we can truly be proud of. Without the diligence and attitude of the team, the bar would be a shadow of what it is,” he added.

One Response to “Swift: The three most important things in a bar are lighting, music and heating”

  1. Rachel says:

    For me the 3 most important factors are good quality glassware, comfortable seating and decent lighting in the bathrooms!

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