One thing you can always expect from Ryan Chetiyawardana and his fellow  lyans is the unexpected. Take their decision to close down then reinvent their ground breaking, multi-award-winning White Lyan at the height of its success for instance. Who could have seen that one coming?

But then again nothing that this team do could ever be considered predictable. Want proof? Consider the other seemingly bonkers announcement they made soon after their five-star hotel outpost Dandelyan was crowned number one on the World’s 50 Best Bars list. Only they would even think of saying sayonara to that much lauded establishment. Let alone go ahead and actually do it.

That particular chapter in the lyan repertoire came to a close on Sunday March 17th. Naturally, there was a party. And a bloody good one it was too, as was the shindig that followed in the very same spot 11 days later. This time to celebrate the opening of Lyaness, the brand new addition to the fold.

So what’s the story? Well, the physicality of the room is still the same. Come on, what do you expect? Ryan, together with co-owner, fellow maverick and mischief mind Iain Griffiths, group bar manager Alex Lawrence and Creative Director Jacu Strauss are clever and cool but even they couldn’t do anything to radically alter the size or shape of the space. Or change the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Thames and the showstopper of a centrepiece that is the marble bar come to that. And why the hell would they? They’re permanent and more to the point, extremely gorgeous fixtures. Instead, the team have focused on rethinking the look, flow and mood of the space, as well as the people they want to frequent it. 

Gone are the moody dark green walls and bold, lilac upholstery and in comes a different vibe and palette, this time centred around an equally but very different dramatic shade of, wait for it, baby blue and softest, subtlest grey. Now some might think that pastels sound all soft and demure, which they are to a certain extent but there’s real power here. The tones are sophisticated, strong and every bit as statement-like, that said, it’s inclusive too. As is the menu, which is centred around ingredients rather than cocktails. Take your pick from one of the three drinks featured in each section, broken down into Infinite Banana, Purple Pineapple, King Monkey Nut, Aromatised Milk Wine and Ultra Raspberry, plus two featuring collaborations with likeminded spirits: Onyx (a Lyaness x Empirical Spirits production) and Old Fashioned Whisky (where Lyaness team up with the folk at Compass Box). Samples of all base ingredients are available at £2 each..

We haven’t tried them all (yet) but so far we’ve fallen for the Cavendish Americano from the Infinite Banana section (Patrón Reposado, Æcorn sweet aperitif, infinite banana, Ceylon Arrack); Rosa Daiquiri coming under the Onyx banner (Grey Goose, Onyx, Trois Rivières, Cocchi Rosa and lime); the Air Mail found in the King Monkey Nut section (lemon cocoa butter, Plymouth gin, king monkey nut, Hine cognac and bubbles), and the White Sbagliato, featuring Purple Pineapple (Tanqueray gin, purple pineapple, Cocchi Americano and Champagne). All absolute stunners and bonus points as most of the drinks on the menu can be made as boozeless options.

We spoke to Ryan and Alex on day one of the the official opening to get the low down…

On closing Dandelyan…

Ryan: When we opened Dandelyan four years ago, it had a genuine relevance to what was happening in the industry and succeeded in shaping a movement towards sustainable drinking in London. That was then. But now, even if you look at it in a cold, hard business sense, there would be a point where Dandelyan would start to lose it’s sheen. It could only go one way from winning these awards and doing the volumes that it did. It sounds like we don’t create long term visions but I feel that creating Lyaness is a fitting move, it gives us a chance to have longevity. The kind of non-concept concept that we’ve gone for here means that we don’t become contrived – which could have happened with the themes we were doing at Dandelyan.

Alex: White Lyan and Dandelyan were both very conceptual but Cub [which took over from White Lyan] and Lyaness are directional, it’s a continual thing. At Dandelyan we explored modern botany to the very edge; it would have contradicted itself if we continued to do so.

On the birth of Lyaness…

Ryan: I really believe in the idea that a rising tide helps all. At the moment, there are a lot of things that are divisive – a bit of us and them – I’ve never seen us as that. I love the stuff that’s going on around us but I think that it’s really important that we’re thinking about what else we can change. What can we push? Not just for the sake of it or to the detriment of anything else but because it’s important to keep the conversation going. White Lyan was niche; it was in the East End of London, so it could be edgy. When we were developing Dandelyan we knew that it was a completely different proposition. Around 4.5 million people use this walkway [in front of the building] each year, so we had to think how we could expand to a different audience. Dandelyan succeeded in that but it was still a cocktail world thing. With Lyaness, we want to be more inclusive. 

On the rationale behind the new venture…

Ryan: What we’re trying to do is show how cocktails can be such a wonderful way of bringing people together. London has this incredible diversification of palate and excitement around food and drink but still there are a lot of people who don’t use cocktails as that device. I think it’s a shame – not just because it’s something that me, the team love and most of the people we know love but I really believe that there’s a real magic to cocktails – more than any other food stuff. So we thought, how can we open that up to more people? How can we do something that doesn’t just talk about the drinks but also the ingredients?

In a sense, we’re playing up to the things that Dandelyan was so wonderful for but we’re really bolstering that and making it the whole focus of the space. So it’s an evolution in that sense, in the same way that Cub was born out of White Lyan, Lyaness is born out of Dandelyan but it’s giving us an opportunity to focus on something that we think is appropriate for the landscape at the moment.

On the meaning behind the name…

Ryan: When you look at prides of lions, you see that it’s the males that are the lazy ones; they don’t actually do anything until they need to step in. The lionesses on the other hand are the hunters, the ones that speak out amongst the pack. That was a wonderful reflection of what we saw the team to be, we wanted to show that strength of character – Lyaness has this boldness to it.

On rhapsodising blue…

Ryan: When we were describing the feel of what we wanted, the word ‘electric’ kept coming up and Jacu [Strauss, Creative Director] picked up on it. The blue he’s gone for is a soft, baby blue, which he told us is very unfashionable in the design world at the moment but at the same time he thought it really reflected our discussions. We were a bit unsure at first but when he explained that he thought the single colour palette would work really well, we went along with it. And I’m glad we did. Honestly, when I walked in and saw the room for the first time, ‘electricity’ is the best way to describe how I felt. It feels like a home and that was one of the things we really wanted to have; it just crystallised our vision of the space.

On the support of the hotel…

Ryan: We’re so fortunate that it’s always been about balance and mutual respect in the partnership that we have with the hotel. They have an appreciation of what we do and what we bring to the table and we’re obviously very thankful for the balance on their side. When I first started talking through our vision for Lyaness, they were very understanding. I think they could tell that it was really important to us.

On giving themselves 10 days to bring their new vision to life…

Ryan: Yeah, it was pretty ludicrous! We thought that it was ambitious but we knew that we could do it. Mind you, while we were in the throes of it, even we were like, ‘this is a real push!’

On the new look and feel of the room…

Ryan: We’ve changed the dynamic to make it all seated. We wanted to have a hosted aspect to make it feel like you’re in the team’s home, which means they can guide and look after you. It also feels more convivial to have people seated in this way. That was a big motivator from my perspective.

Alex: Dandelyan was busier than it ever was supposed to be. Which is a good problem and there were definitely points where we had to break character to adapt to different situations but with Lyaness, we’ve controlled everything and considered everything again. While it does have that luxurious feel, it’s not stuffy. When we did the mock service, everyone was sat really close together, chatting and the room felt much more lively. Dandelyan was big and guests wouldn’t necessarily interact with other tables, in fact, it could be quite awkward but now, you never know, there could be an entire corner of conversation. And as long as it’s hosted, guided and considered, I think that can be a really amazing thing to go to a hotel bar and make new friends – it’s just something that’s not done in a luxury environment. You might do that in a pub but the ability to control that in a considered way is amazing.

On the thinking behind the drinks…

Alex: We’ve chosen to move away from the traditional cocktail menu and instead we’ve focused on seven common ingredients that have an element of familiarity to most people. This allows guests to really engage in their drinking choices and inject a whole new level of participation and fun into the experience of drinking and choosing cocktails.

The Prelude, featuring purple pineapple with Elyx, grass, Æcorn dry aperitif
and lactic acid soda

On feeling the fear (and doing it anyway…)

Ryan: I’m unfaltering in the focus but also a bit terrified. I’ve always thrived on that – in fact, I’ve given talks on this subject because I think it’s really important: not only is that bit of fear a motivator, I think it’s a crucial reflection to show that you’re making the right choice. I think you should be shit scared, that’s a great position to be in and I think that’s been a guiding mentality for me in life generally. I’m not a fan of making things easy for myself that’s for sure but if you’re challenging yourself in that way, it just shows that you’re doing things for the right reasons.

On hero ingredients from the menu…

Ryan: I can’t choose my favourites, that’s like asking to choose a favourite child. However, I will say that banana and nut are very interesting. Like all of the sections, they’re about understanding different ways of transforming flavours and using techniques like fermentation, microbes and oxidisation to pull things apart. In the case of banana we’ve developed something that is every slice of banana. You get smoky, rich and dark, not just the usual caramelised banana, it’s all of these wonderful tropical elements and there’s an element of brightness which puts you on a desert island in a wonderful way.

It’s important to look at what we were doing before and what we’re excited to do next and that’s what Lyaness personifies.

Lyaness is at Sea Containers London, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PD. lyaness.com
@Lyanessbar #lyaness

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