Finding a good bar or restaurant is a bit like falling in love. On one hand, you want to tell the world about it. On the other, you’d like to hold it close and keep it all for yourself. But as it’s nearly Christmas, here’s my gift to you – it’s called Bar Swift, and it’s on Old Compton Street in Soho.
I visited Bar Swift on its opening night, and had the sort of wonderful compressed evening where you drink so much in a short space of time that you find yourself home by 9 o’clock, sensibly drinking water and remembering to feed the cats. We started in the Deco inspired upstairs bar, with a Sgroppino – Italicus liqueur (worth buying for the beautiful turquoise bottle alone), topped up with Prosecco and served in a coupe with a ball of lemon sorbet. A posh ice cream float, basically, but one I want to drink every single day in the summer.
The downstairs bar is the evil twin of the upstairs bar – darker, moodier, with a piano, a 1930s speakeasy feel and an altogether heavier cocktail menu, alongside a comprehensive whisky offering. We sat at the bar, and let the bartender guide our choices based on our usual favourites. The Ribbon is a riff on a Negroni, with sherry replacing the gin, and Solerno (blood orange liqueur) softening the bitter edge. But the star of the show was the Silver Pistol, chosen purely for my love of Kummel, a caraway liqueur. Here it’s mixed with Mezcal, white vermouth, absinthe and celery bitters to make a smoky minerally cocktail designed to blow away the cobwebs. There’s a short menu of bar snacks – rillettes, steak tartare and a gooey Guinness welsh rarebit that would be more properly eaten with a knife and fork, unless you’ve had 3 cocktails and you’re starving (ahem).
I had such a lovely time that I immediately re-booked for a group of eight friends the following week – and this is one of the many joys of the place. You can ACTUALLY BOOK. What’s more, despite the name “swift” they promised not to table turn us. So, we tried to show our appreciation by drinking our way through the entire cocktail list. Needless to say I can’t remember them all, but I re-visited the Silver Pistol, and had a Fourth Gentleman (no sniggering at the back there) – a lighter version of an Old Fashioned, using plum and pear liqueurs in place of sugar or simple syrup. The only bum note of the evening was the medicinal tasting Snowstorm, with notes of TCP and Lysol. The waitress described it as the most “challenging” cocktail on their menu, and kindly offered to take it back and remove it from the bill, but its owner politely declined and bravely drank on.
Cocktails are reasonably priced, generally hovering around the £10 mark, service is friendly, and Bar Swift is particularly welcome at a time when rising rents mean many of the old businesses that give Soho its vibrant individual edge are disappearing and being replaced by large chains. Final festive tip – the Praline Flip tastes like Christmas in a glass.
Average cocktail price – £10
Location – Old Compton Street
Website – http://www.barswift.com
Best for – Pre dinner drinks (upstairs), hedonists (downstairs)
Reservations – Downstairs only