Ryan Chetiyawardana and the Quest to Build the Perfect Cocktail Bar
DC’s Silver Lyan is the latest venture from the man behind the former world’s best bar
Just a few months prior to London’s Dandelyan shaking its last ever cocktail, it was dubbed the best bar in the world by the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Many were understandably shocked by when then-owner Ryan Chetiyawardana decided to close the award-winning watering hole.
Popularly known as Mr. Lyan, Chetiyawardana is arguably the most recognizable mixologist in the world, known not only for his use of unusual ingredients but also his commitment to sustainability. Now he’s bringing that acumen stateside for the first time at the recently opened Silver Lyan, which is located within the new Riggs Washington DC.
We sat down to chat with him about new beginnings, the increasingly competitive craft cocktail stage and what it means to be exceptional at mixing a drink. And for the DIY barkeeps among you, he also shared a pair of exclusive recipes to try at home.
InsideHook: How was it closing up shop at Dandelyan, dubbed the best bar in the world at the time, and what did you learn from that experience?
Ryan Chetiyawardana: We always love to keep moving, and of course that experience will stay with us forever. It was an amazing feeling, but we wanted to continue to challenge ourselves, and the industry, and I feel with all the projects we have on now we’re really doing that.
Like achieving a Michelin star: of course it’s wonderful, and I was so proud of it as a recognition for the staff and all their hard work, but it wasn’t what we see as the goal to what we do, nor was it the defining moment about what we’re trying to do. I love the world of food and drink and its unique ability to bring people together. We want to try and add something new, exciting, and accessible to that evolving space, and try to help people have a better time with their friends. So we’re constantly trying to learn, and all the projects we’ve had over the years help inform that.
What drew you to open Silver Lyan in DC? Is it a city you had spent much time in before?
I’d been out to DC a few times — first for a talk, then for some research trips, then the pop-ups, so I’d been coming back and forth for about two-and-a-half years. Actually I think it was from these initial trips that I started to develop a real love and intrigue for the city. Partly as it wasn’t what I expected, and because a really dear friend had given me some great introductions to people around town.
There was this amazing balance of the history of the city: its music, culture and food scene, married with a modern counterpart in these areas that was pushing forward in a really exciting way. Everyone was so friendly, and it seemed a place we could be part of and compliment. Thankfully our partners at Lore Group had also shared this love of the city, and we both had it on our horizon as an exciting city — fortune aligned a lot of points to make it happen!
How do the cocktail offerings at Silver Lyan differ from those at your previous establishments, and how do you continue to innovate on your offerings?
We always make the offering unique to the space, the timing, and what is currently exciting us, so this means it’s always about continuing to innovate. The product for Super Lyan at the Kimpton De Witt is specific to Amsterdam, and the same goes for Cub and for Lyaness at Sea Containers London, so we use what surrounds us as a springboard for ideas. I feel very fortunate to run between three of my favorite cities with venues I’m really proud of and continue to be excited by, creating very different products to continue to challenge and push discussions.
What do you think about today’s increasingly competitive world of cocktail bars? Do you think patrons can still expect the same experience today that they might have had while dropping big bucks on fancy cocktails prior to the boom?
The dynamism and diversity of the food-and-drink world is what makes it great. The way you get together varies, so we need a variety of venues that cater to different occasions. I came from a background covering fine dining, nightclubs, dive bars and everything in between, and drew inspiration from all of them. This is what allows the industry to create honest and complete experiences for our guests. Also, as the education around food has grown, the average person is much more versed in flavor, ingredients and their own palates, and as creatures that get bored with monotony, it means we have to keep innovating to keep things fresh for people.
What do you think are the necessary elements involved in delivering a truly awesome bar experience? An exceptional cocktail?
It’s all about balance in a wider sense. Of course, what’s in a drink, or in a dish is important, but the whole experience needs to tie together and feel honest and consistent. There’s no one-rule-fits-all, but when a venue is authentic and allows their team to shine, the experience becomes exceptional.
Anything else you want to tell us about, perhaps how you’ll continue to pursue the goal of zero waste at Silver Lyan?
I’m really excited by the new ingredients we’re able to work with around the DMV area, and particularly the farmers and producers we’re able to support. Hopefully we can pass on their stories to our guests and champion the amazing work they’re doing, but I’m also really excited to continue to learn from them as experts, and to be able to take influence from a whole new set of conditions than what we have over in Europe.
To drool over the Silver Lyan’s full cocktail list at the Riggs Washington DC, you can click here, but to attempt recreation at home is usually folly. Thankfully, Chetiyawardana made it a tad bit easier on us with these for-home adaptations of some of his most popular new cocktails. Cin cin.
400ml Westward Whiskey
250ml Laird’s bonded applejack
300ml cocchi di torino
300ml martini rosso
50ml blackcurrant liqueur
10ml Angostura bitters
5ml Peychaud bitters
Vac pack or add to a glass bowl and cover with a plate, blast in the microwave for 3 minutes. Allow to cool, then strain and bottle. To serve, stir 70ml over ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a cherry.
30ml Bacardi Carta Blanca infused with mint
15ml Del Maguey Vida
20ml Pineau de Charentes
15ml mixed citrus oleo saccharum
10ml fresh lemon
Build over crushed ice, then garnish with a sprig of mint and a slice of lemon.
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