Photography: Addie Chinn
Get ready world, the new bar from two great cocktail couples is underway. We spoke to husband and wife teams Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson and recently married Mia Johansson and Bobby Hiddleston to get the lowdown on their highly anticipated joint venture. Clue: it’s going to be HUGE…
Edmund and Rosie, how long have you been looking for a third site and were you consciously looking for a space in central London?
We’d been mulling over it since 2011 when we first visited Boadas in Barcelona which serves excellent cocktails to people in a standing only bar and leaves you feeling you’ve had a great, chic experience. The idea of sneaking in a cocktail before your next destination is one which we loved, and is a concept that sits snuggly between a pint at the pub and a reservations-only cocktail bar. Soho, with its footfall and mix of clientele was the obvious choice for the concept. We decided to start looking at the beginning of the summer thinking it would take us another three years to find a site, and three weeks later we were approached about LAB.
Bobby and Mia, how long have you been looking for a bar of your own and what attributes were on your wish-list?
The dream has been in the pipeline for five years (saving capital takes time) but we only started putting together details and actually searching two-and-a-half years ago! Since losing High Water in February 2015, we’ve been on a constant hunt for the right site – it feels like we’ve seen millions. Then Ed and Rosie contacted us with the dream site that is 12 Old Compton Street.
When and why did the four of you decide to join forces in this new venture?
E&R: We knew that we needed to partner up with people who really understand the industry, had long experience and understanding of the business of running bars. It was also important that they believed in the concept, could make fast cocktails (we all know about Bobby’s record!), and bring it all to life.
M&B: The four of us are very similar in our vision and ways of working. It feels really empowering and safe working with another married couple. We have always admired Ed and Rosie’s work ethics and strength of knowledge. Being the leading bar owner couple in the world and still having time to be nice to everybody, especially their staff, travel the world and put their two boys to bed every night takes huge patience, how can you not want to work with these two?
Ed and Rosie contacted us in June for a coffee. At the time we were both about to embark on other work opportunities and we said we needed 24 hours to think about the offer. But by the next morning we’d already sent off emails cancelling all other plans. It was too good an opportunity to miss.
How will the partnership work?
E&R: Bobby and Mia make all the decisions about running the bar. We’ve financed it, brought in our designers and head office functions and have been working with Bobby and Mia on defining the concept. However, the everyday decisions and operations will be down to them. It will be their personalities that infuse the brand and how the company is shaped.
M&B: The partnership will work through organisation. Bobby and I are managing partners, or operational if you prefer. We are in charge of the site, the concept, the staff and everyday service – all the hands-on stuff. Ed and Rosie will help organise the structure of the business. Weekly, sometimes monthly meetings will give us all the opportunity to look things over and offer each other support.
How does it feel to take on such an iconic site and is there an added pressure on you to make it work?
E&R: It’s a great leap of faith and clearly the pressure is on to create a world class cocktail bar that does the site proud. It’s an honour to be part of Soho life and we’re keen to bring something to the mix that we believe is missing. LAB was a stalwart and accounts for a lot of the top brand ambassadors and cocktail bartenders around today. We’re pleased that cocktails will continue to be served at the site and it was not lost to developers. Mind you, having met the landlady she would not have allowed that to happen – she owned Soho nightclubs back in the 80s and is really looking forward to what we produce.
M&B: We are humbled and frankly terrified to be the ones that take this site into its next transformation. We put a great deal of effort in to giving LAB a proper send-off and we will take all these nerves in our stride. We have a cracking concept that we can’t wait to show the world. The support that has come from the community has been enormous and so positive, it feels almost surreal. We will make sure 12 Old Compton Street will always have its door open for the thirsty punter or a hug for friends or locals. We believe the passion and warmth the previous staff have shown is permeated in the brick work and we’ll work hard to add to it.
How do you plan to make it your own?
E&R: We have a strong concept that’s very different from what came before. We’ve put in a lot of hours of discussion and we’re all on the same page with the direction we’re taking the bar. We believe between the four of us and the incredible team of professionals Bobby and Mia have drawn together we’ll be able to create a bar that is a success – hopefully on the scale of its predecessor.
M&B: The site will get a full refurb, not just a face lift. It will look completely different. Bobby and I have had a way of working for years now, the concept will come from us and besides offering fresh, easy, bespoke cocktails we’ll bring back the training aspect we were grateful to receive when we started out. Training, tasty drinks and full focus on warm, friendly hospitality might not be revolutionary but we believe when all the pieces fit perfectly, the result can be magical.
So tell us, what’s the name of the bar and what does it mean?
E&R: The name of the bar is Swift. We’re creating a bar for a cosmopolitan type who is always on the move, and swifts sleep on the wing, so the character of the bird fits the concept well. We’re aiming high; we want Soho residents and visitors to understand that there’s a cocktail for every time of the day and they can get one without waiting at our bar.
M&B: Besides belonging to the bird family, the name Swift showcases the accessibility of the place. We want the doors to be open, like the local where you pop in for a swift one. We don’t want anyone to feel that just because they only have 30 minutes doesn’t mean they haven’t got time to experience delicious bespoke cocktails and a few nibbles as well. At Swift you’ll get the quality in your drink with the effortless ease of being in a local. But don’t get us wrong here, with the downstairs bar being something even more special, you will want to spend your entire night here. Ed and Rosie had the name already, they just needed a site to give it to.
What vibe are you aiming for at Swift?
E&R: We’ve designed a slick, clean standing bar on the ground floor that was principally inspired by Josef Hoffman and the Wiener Werkstätte [Viennese production company of artists] but with a contemporary view. Upstairs we’ll be serving sharpeners, tipples, aperitifs, digestifs and night caps, while downstairs will have a seated bar which has been built for comfort and has a very different feel to what’s on top. We’ll have a library of whisky and a menu that suits the slower pace. There’s a piano for weekend nights, naturally.
M&B: We hope to welcome you all to bar Swift at the end of November this year. You can expect a vibrant, warm beautiful bar when we open the brand new doors. The upstairs floor will be a buzzing sophisticated hub with standing Martini- and Champagne drinkers, a few oysters here and there and lots of smiling faces. After a drink at the upstairs bar, you’ll have the option to move down to our drinking den downstairs. This is where we have a suave whisky bar, with the offer being affordable but interesting whiskies and a bigger cocktail menu. Take a seat in one of our Art Deco sofas and just relax, you have found your new sexy local. We are aiming to make Swift a warm space that you would like to visit as much on a Tuesday afternoon as you would on a Saturday night out.
Swift opens late November.