October 13, 2023
Have a Swig
By Taylor Bond
Whenever you’ve heard of buddies stumbling upon the genius idea of opening a bar after a few too many rounds, the project’s success often seems, at best, dubious. Just look at Paddy’s Pub from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,’’ or Tom Haverford’s nightclub endeavor in “Parks and Recreation.” For Swig’s owners, however—Fred Giutronich, Jack Wendell and Inuk Gytkjær—their bar dream definitely wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment scheme concocted out of one too many late-night pints.
On the contrary, having spent years nurturing and building a vibrant community of international Tokyoites at a previous bar in Nakameguro, the trio possessed all of the essential foundations to launch the city’s newest hotspot for in-the-know internationals and curious locals alike.
Step into Swig. Nestled into an—as of yet—commercially under-developed section of Shibuya, Swig feels more like your local pub—with all the cult-of-personality charm that effectively keeps recurring customers delighted and devoted—than a swanky, upscale lounge; but both the interior and stock readily speak to Swig’s high-end quality.
Jade green hues add a rich, elegant depth to the space, otherwise composed of wooden accents, cement structure, and a long row of window seating that welcomes conversation among both patrons and new guests into the bar. For the most part the walls are kept bare, except for the handwritten chalkboard menu, a smattering of hand-selected decorative prints, and the crowning glory: Swig’s original architectural plans.
But the most noticeable feature, far more of a focus than the interior, is the laughter spilling over from the bar counter and the deeply local yet somehow organically international vibe. Giutronich, Wendell and Gytkjær have no reservations conveying the mayhem that unavoidably sprung up during reconstruction. After obtaining the space, it was necessary to completely gut the existing interior and build up the structure of Swig from scratch. The process of transforming a once-dim, aging bar into the current open-armed atmosphere Swig specializes in required a hands-on, fully immersive dive into the nitty-gritty of wielding power tools and excavating the lingering grime of the prior design. Refurbishing came with both a learning curve and positive results.
“On the second day of construction, we burst the water pipe with a jackhammer,” they confess with obvious mirth. “The owner of the downstairs izakaya came up to let us know we were dripping on their meal prep.” Prior to the accident, the founders had been debating about heading down and formally introducing themselves to the neighbors, even considering bringing down a bottle of whiskey as a gesture of goodwill. And yet, those first introductions didn’t go according to plan. “It ended up being a really great way to break the ice. Since then, they invited us down for a meal and they’ve come up for shots.” The crew rushed down to the nearest combini and bought all the towels they had in stock, and rushed along with profuse apologies to help clean up the water. “We’ve created a good friendship out of it,” the group laughs.
It’s this friendly charm that has made the owners so endearing to the community around them. Open to any and all, the popular Nakameguro-based bar was primarily frequented by in-the-know regulars brought in by word of mouth, while the more expansive, open-plan space that is Swig now also beckons to passersby strolling through the neighborhood’s streets.
Despite their differences in personality, all three give every appearance of being a close-knit family; they act with a well-worn ease stemming from years of working side by side in the hospitality and food service industry. While they all arrived in Tokyo on different paths —for Giutronich, that path happened to be a 1,100-kilometer bike ride from Hokkaido all the way to the borders of Tokyo—they quickly found themselves bonding, and spent years refining their skills and developing the seeds of the concept that would eventually become Swig.
The venue exists comfortably in a space straddling the line between no-frills and upscale elegance.
We aim to be a fivestar dive bar.
Wendell says it’s the type of place to feel simultaneously like the local pub where the bartender recognizes guests by name, and a more upscale atmosphere focused on the quality of the product as much as the openness of the environment.
“After all,” Giutronich tacks on with a laugh, “people walking by take a peek in and think it looks oshare, but the reality is I’m working behind the bar wearing shorts. We’re low-key—there’s no cover charge, but there’s still great cocktails and great service. There’s something for everyone on our menu.”
For the moment, the standard menu covers all the classic cocktails, using a range of both domestic Japanese liquor and imported options to achieve a well-balanced taste. Currently, they’re slinging up an off-menu omakase mix to those daring enough to ask. Eventually, they aim to concoct a wider range of signature sips.
A casual community providing exceptional products: this is one of Swig’s main concepts. It’s also one embedded directly into the name itself, encouraging patrons to “have a swig”—not muse on a tiny sip or down it all in a single shot. All people, regardless of background or personal alcohol preference, can count on Swig for both a good drink and a good time.