Behind the Bar How They Got It Right

How 2 Couples Are Bringing London’s Soho Neighborhood Back to Its Cocktail Roots

Addie Chinn

Mia Johansson and Bobby Hiddleston, the bartending power couple who first met slinging drinks at London’s swank Milk & Honey, tied the knot last summer. A few months later, the ambitious Swede and Scot made their 2016 even more profound by opening Swift, the bar they dreamed of for years, in Soho.

Set in the old LAB Bar, another joint that helped define London’s venerated cocktail scene, Swift was launched in partnership with Edmund Weil and Rosie Stimpson, the fellow husband-and-wife team behind popular imbibing spots Nightjar and Oriole. Although Soho is synonymous with raucous club-crawling tourists, the neighborhood, now overshadowed by the likes of bar-stuffed Shoreditch, was once hallowed ground for pristine cocktails. Along with the just-opened, midcentury-inspired Disrepute nearby, Johansson and Hiddleston are ushering in a classy new booze era for Soho.

Bloody Mary at Swift.

“Our relationship began here, so it was almost a feeling of coming home when we took this opportunity,” says Johansson. “If you’re lucky to be welcomed into the Soho family, you will soon understand why there’s nothing quite like it. All the neighbors know each other, there are ethnicities from every corner of the world melted together in one vibrant pot, and all of us try to do our best every day.”

Beyond Milk & Honey, the duo worked at a number of other lauded establishments, including the Mark’s Bar at HIX Soho for Johansson and Callooh Callay and New York City’s much-talked-about Dead Rabbit for Hiddleston. Together, their knack for uniting quality drinks with glamorous décor and heartfelt hospitality shines at Swift, which invites patrons to savor tipples amid one of two distinctly different but complementary stylish settings.

Johansson says they “wanted to create a suave space so that if you only have 20 minutes for a drink it doesn’t have to be a beer at the pub or a glass of wine at the café. You can have all of the expertise and sophistication, whether you’re popping in just before the theater or staying for a whole evening.”

Upstairs, spur-of-the-moment guests settle into the upbeat bar with a 1930s Viennese feel, “where all are welcomed and you can enjoy a Martini in the early afternoon,” says Johansson. Here, they anoint oysters with shallot vinegar and heap steak tartare onto crostini while pouring one of a half-dozen shifting cocktails. Two favorites include a juiced-to-order Bloody Mary (made with vodka, cherry tomatoes, carrot juice, passata, lemon Juice and a house-made spice mix) and the delicate Sgroppino (made with Italicus liqueur, lemon sorbet and prosecco).

Irish Coffee at Swift.

The vibe is decidedly clubbier in the dimly lit downstairs bar, with folks making reservations for dates to unfold in curved booths. Along with a page of recommended scotches, from Longrow peated single-malt to Old Pulteney 21-year-old single-malt—the menu features bold and seductive libations such as the Cobblestone (Teeling small-batch Irish whiskey, nocino liqueur, oloroso sherry and Angostura bitters). Yet it’s sipping on the refined Irish Coffee (Jameson Caskmates Irish whiskey, demerara sugar, sweetened coffee, hand-whisked cream and nutmeg), sublimely nutty, bitter and silky, that quickly developed a rewarding winter habit among loyalists.

“We were raised by the Dick Bradsell, Nick Strangeway and Jonathan Downey generation,” says Johansson. “Bobby and I are classically trained, and we hope to bring the legacy of these great mentors forward. We are at our best when it’s simple and elegant.”