What do you get when you cross miniature golf with street food, a live DJ, and booze? Probably lots of lousy putts, but you also get Swingers, a high-concept entertainment clubhouse and cocktail bar franchise where guests indulge their love of both elaborately designed golf courses and local cuisine.
First launched in 2016, the concept has been a hit in London, where it currently has two locations. Now the founders are bringing their boozy brand of “crazy golf” to America.
On June 11, Swingers will unveil a new location at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C., in the two-floor space formerly occupied by Buffalo Billiards, a beloved sports bar that shuttered in 2019. A second U.S. location will open in New York City’s Flatiron District at a date yet to be announced.
“We were really convinced that there were markets that could support a Swingers location, because it’s such a universal activity,” Matt Grech-Smith, the company’s cofounder and CEO, tells Fast Company.
Grech-Smith, who had a background in live events before launching Swingers, said New York was an obvious choice for a U.S. location given its status as the country’s cultural capital. He said D.C. emerged as an equally appealing option after the Swingers team learned more about that city’s robust dating culture, high-density neighborhoods, and rising food scene.
“We spent a lot of time there and really kind of fell in love with it,” he says of D.C. “It’s a very cool, chilled sophisticated city, and it just checks lots of the boxes—the things that we look for in what we call a Swingers city.”
Swingers is working with Knead Hospitality + Design, a D.C.-based restaurant group, for the food offerings at the Dupont location. At least four local restaurants will provide burgers, pizza, tacos, and other street fare for guests to scarf down as they sip cocktails and attempt to navigate the kitschy golf courses.
The expansion is a bet that the wounded experience economy will enjoy a healthy resurgence in whatever world emerges after the pandemic. Before COVID-19, consumers, especially younger ones, were increasingly flocking to Instagram-friendly experiences, including many that mix a night of drinking with an indoor competitive activity, such as axe-throwing bars.
Grech-Smith says that social media, combined with people’s desire for something fun and different, has been a major force behind the trend. Pre-pandemic, Swingers sites generated about $11 million in annual revenue and saw upwards of 3,000 guests per week each.
“There’s no doubt that social media is a big driver,” he says. “People not only want to have these experiences, but they want to let their wider network know. So we provide these very photogenic venues where people can take great photos, post them online, and they get the additional currency of being able to tell people they’ve gone somewhere cool.”
But not too cool. One of the appeals of Swingers, Grech-Smith says, is that it lets people enjoy themselves without pretense or a veneer of hipsterdom. “We’re not threatening, and there’s zero attitude,” he says. “You know, if you’ve got crazy golf as your core activity, you can’t be that cool. It’s inherently a kind of nostalgic, fun, goofy activity.”
In addition to the new locations, Swingers recently raised an additional $20 million in funding from Cain International.
For now, Swingers’ American debut will have to contend with restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic. The D.C. location will open at reduced capacity, with an atmosphere “slightly more relaxed” than what the franchise is used to, and in accordance with public health guidelines.
But hopefully that will change soon. By the most optimistic forecasts, pent-up demand for group experiences will help usher in a new Roaring ’20s for live events when the pandemic dust finally settles. For a venue like Swingers, which is modeled after the kind of English-style golf clubs that were all the rage in the 1920s, that would be a fitting return to form.
“People have now spent 18 months behind the computer screen, on Zoom call after Zoom call,” Grech-Smith says. “I think when it ends people are going to be even more keen to go and have offline experiences, and we’re going to be very happy to be here to help them do that.”