The moment you enter Swordfish Cocktail Club, the bartender starts to analyze your body language.
A preview beverage offered—a mini taste of vermouth, Champagne, or beer—provides the perfect opportunity to assess your tastes, offer suggestions, and watch your reactions. There’s an art to the negotiation that ensues between guest and bartender, and Swordfish founders Evan Leihy, Daniel Brown, and Bradley Hagen believe they have the upper hand, all for the guest’s benefit.
They notice if a suggested base liquor or flavor profile elicits even a subtle response, and they may challenge your stated preferences. The point certainly isn’t to cause offense, but rather to avail the guest of their expert knowledge. “My goal is to find the drink you actually want rather than the one you say you want,” Leihy says.
That might very well be a daiquiri—“Capital D” daiquiri, they like to say, to distinguish the delicate rum, lime juice, and simple syrup cocktail from the frozen poolside amalgamation. Or the even simpler gimlet—gin and house lime cordial.
Their attention to the finer points of hospitality and the accompanying confident resolve is obvious—from the polished copper bar to their steadfast commitment to a no-standing policy. The latter is more common in larger cities, often due to centuries-old architecture resulting in narrow spaces. Small dimensions aside, it’s also a choice made to maintain a more respectful drinking environment not often seen outside of large metropolitan areas and especially not in a college town.
The three founders and long-time friends, with a deep commitment to true hospitality, operated Swordfish as a speakeasy for four years before opening this new public location the last week of December.
The result is a rum- and gin-heavy bar with a high level of service, an encouraged slower drinking pace and moderate decibel level, a small-plates menu devoid of chicken fingers and fries (find, instead, Fernet-braised leeks, roasted bone marrow, or pomme de terre), and a ten-drink menu featuring classics, but not a drop of vodka.
Photography by Paul Mehaffey. Swordfish Cocktail Club, 220 E Coffee St, Greenville. (864) 434-9519, swordfishcocktails.com