Mark Ludmon steps into the crazy world of Swingers in London’s West End. Pictures by Luke Dyson
No longer do people just go out for a drink: they are seeking “experiences”, according to the trend watchers. For the ultimate in this, visit Swingers where you can enjoy a well-crafted cocktail and some street food while playing a game of crazy golf. After a hugely successful pop-up in Shoreditch in east London in 2014, founders Matt Grech-Smith and Jeremy Simmonds opened their first permanent site two years ago in an 18,000 sq ft basement next to the Gherkin in the City. They have now unveiled their second Swingers, taking over 20,000 square feet on the first floor of a former BHS store near Oxford Circus, which includes four bars.
While the City site took inspiration from quintessential 1920s English country clubs, they have gone back to crazy golf’s roots for the West End. Working with Zachary Pulman Design Studio, Matt and Jeremy have created a striking interior that draws on a 1920s English seaside theme, recalling the grand hotels and promenades of resorts like Brighton in their heyday. “We wanted to do something different from the City to give people reasons to visit both,” Matt explains. “We have innovative theatrical designs to give people a couple of hours out of their everyday life and let them step into a different world. When people go out, they want to do more than just eat and drink.”
The new Swingers is reached up a grand wooden staircase where the walls are covered in old-style black-and-white golf club photographs Photoshopped with the faces of celebrities from Freddie Mercury to Boris Johnson. The Bandstand Bar greets you as as you enter, with bright turquoise pillars and a roof inspired by a traditional bandstand canopy. Filled with natural light during the daytime, it is furnished with grass-green banquettes and tables across pale-coloured tiling.
Turn right to walk along The Promenade – a lamppost-lined boardwalk, festooned with multi-coloured bulbs and lined with street food concessions resembling beach huts. These are run in partnership with leading names on the foodie scene, with pizzas from Made of Dough, burgers from Patty&Bun, tacos from Breddos Tacos and desserts from Hackney Gelato which is stepping out in front of consumers for the first time after supplying restaurants and shops.
Beyond this is the Grand Hotel Bar which is inspired by the palm courts of the grand hotels of Eastbourne and Torquay, with potted plants and foliage hanging from the ceiling, rattan chairs, and Art Deco-style lamps dotted along the counter of the huge island bar. Two pergolas, draped in more foliage and furnished with garden tables, are popular with groups.
Group and corporate bookings are key to the business, supported by a 15-strong sales team, with spaces including three smartly designed private-hire rooms: The Sun Room for up to 20 people, The President’s Committee Room for 30 and The Palm Lounge for 45. But of course the heart of the venue is the crazy golf, two nine-hole courses designed by Matt and Jeremy, full of quirky obstacles, jumps and hoops including a moving Big Wheel and a Helter Skelter.
There is no need to leave the courses for drinks as both have their own bars plus a team of “caddies” taking and delivering orders. “We always say drinking is encouraged on the course and will help your game,” Matt points out. There is a small selection of wines and beers, including Meantime on draught, plus a good range of premium spirits mainly supplied from the Diageo Reserve portfolio. An extensive cocktail list is available throughout the venue, developed by the bar team at Swingers in the City. “We have a broad demographic of customers so we try to cater to all tastes with our cocktails, with something for the more discerning drinkers as well as something more fun and accessible.”
Classics and twisted recipes range from a Negroni and a Clover Club with Tanqueray No Ten gin to a Kentucky Mule with Bulleit Rye whiskey, a Rum Old Fashioned with Ron Zacapa and a Fernet Mojito with Havana Club Especial rum, Belsazar Dry vermouth and Fernet-Branca. Bulleit Bourbon is used for a twist on an Espresso Martini while a Porn Star Martini becomes a XXX Martini with Cîroc Vanilla vodka, Frangelico, passion fruit, lime juice and gomme syrup plus a shot of Freixenet Cordon Negro cava on the side. Williams Chase Pink Grapefruit Gin is mixed with apricot brandy, Earl Grey syrup, lemon juice and mint leaves for a fresh Fairway To Heaven while the signature Swinger G&T combines Tanqueray No Ten with Double Dutch Tonic, grapefruit and pink peppercorn.
Freixenet has partnered Swingers to create cocktails using its Freixenet Ice – a cava designed for serving over ice – including the popular Elderflower Spritz which mixes it with Chase Elderflower Liqueur and Double Dutch Cucumber & Watermelon Soda. Through a link-up with Belsazar vermouth, frozen cocktail machines dispense a Frosé, made with Belsazar Rosé, rosé wine, strawberry puree and agave syrup, and a Froberry mixing Belsazar Red with Havana Club 3 Year Old rum, blackberry liqueur, blackberries, lime juice and gomme syrup.
If you want to keep a clear head on the course, the non-alcoholic “Chauffeur’s Choice” list features the likes of a Virgin Pina Colada with pineapple juice, coconut and maraschino cherry syrup and lemon juice. But you don’t even have to play crazy golf, with people welcome to step inside just to enjoy the cocktails and street food, although it is strictly for over-18s.
Matt and Jeremy’s company, aptly named The Institute of Competitive Socialising, has its sights set on new sites in the future, especially in North America, but for now they are focusing on building on the success of their two large venues in London. “We want to make sure people have as much fun as possible in an environment for great food, great drinks, great activities and great service,” Matt adds.
Swingers, 15 John Prince’s Street, London W1G 0AB
Tel: 020 3846 3222
Behind the scenes
Design: in-house with Zachary Pulman Design Studio
Main contractor: WFC
Bar systems: Salix
Originally published in the May 2018 print edition of Bar magazine.