A London brand of adults-only mini-golf courses called Swingers will open its first U.S. location this spring inside a gigantic two-level space in Dupont Circle that used to house high-volume bars Buffalo Billiards and the Front Page.
The 20,000-square-foot complex, scheduled to open Friday, June 11, will also contain a previously announced food hall led by Knead Hospitality + Design. The D.C. restaurant group’s first foray into fast-casual includes four stalls: a pared-down take on Ed Lee’s Succotash (Lil’ Succotash); Mexican street food from Mi Vida chef Roberto Santibañez (Tu Taco); pastries and soft serve from NYC-based partner bakery Mah-Ze-Dahr; and Knead’s first shot at pizza (Kneadza Pizza).
Both paying golfers and the general public can order from bars and stalls around the perimeter of the course before snagging one of 500 seats dotting the building.
What started out as a five-month pop-up in a London warehouse in 2014 has since grown into two permanent Swingers venues in London. The U.S. expansion, fueled by a $20 million fundraising round from Cain International, will include an additional location in NYC’s Flatiron District Virgin Hotel in early 2022. The “crazy golf” theme pairs high-end street food and craft cocktails in an elaborate 1920s-era English golf clubhouse setting.
Swingers doubles as a dance venue of sorts, with local DJs spinning at the all-day complex throughout the week. Customers must be 21-and-up to get in. “There’s no dress code, ban on mobiles, or penalties for going out of turn. Unless you’re at the bar,” according to its London websites.
There are four themed bars in the D.C. building, all of which plan to buy from local distillers. The drink list is still in the works, but look for classics like gin martinis and negronis. There will be top-shelf spirits and wines for big-budget corporate crowds, and eight tap lines to accommodate date nights or birthday parties.
“It’s unusual to have a basement space and have natural light flooding in,” CEO and co-founder Matt Grech-Smith tells Eater. “Even at 50 percent you can still fit 200 people in the venue, spread out.”
Drinking is not only allowed on each of its two 9-hole golf courses — it’s encouraged. Bar “caddies” roam around with staff offering golf tips while taking and delivering cocktail orders.
“If you manage to get a hole in one and they see it, they’ll bring a celebratory shot,” Grech-Smith says. A 9th hole prize wheel that rewards players with food and drink is also a big crowd pleaser from London making its way over to D.C.
Grech-Smith says one of the first celebrity customers at Swingers was actress Margot Robbie, who he recalls hit one ball off an angle and accidentally “hit our attorney on the head.”
A fluorescent design and elegant library-themed bar will mark a 180 from the basement’s former life as decades-old sports bar and pool hall, which closed in 2019.
Tee tickets for the D.C. location are now on sale for $19-24 a person, with packages available upon request. The food hall and golf course will operate in tandem, from lunchtime to late-night service.
“There’s so much pent-up desire to just go out and party, drink, and socialize and have a conversation with [an unmasked] face,” says Knead co-founder Jason Berry.
Knead plans to bolster its portfolio in a big way starting this spring, when COVID-19 restrictions are expected to ease and allow at least 50 percent capacity.
Knead plans to unveil a nearby Dupont Circle restaurant, Mi Casa, with Mexican-American border cuisine from Santibañez. Crystal City is getting a massive Mah-Ze-Dahr in May. Gatsby, a modern American diner next to Nationals Park, expects to open in early April. Casual French cafe Bistro du Jour will land along the Wharf by July.