His Bar Was Considered the Best in the World. Now, He's Starting From Scratch.
"Closing might have seemed like a really odd decision from the outside," said Ryan Chetiyawardana, whose bar, Dandelyan, closed earlier this month. "But it felt like an obvious choice."
When Ryan Chetiyawardana announced back in October that Dandelyan would be closing, he caused somewhat of a stir in the global cocktail world — and the corners of the Internet occupied by mixology nerds, members of the food media, and "best of" list devotees. The announcement came just a few months after the bar's drinks list had been named "World’s Best Cocktail Menu" at Tales of the Cocktail's Spirited Awards. Three days later, the London establishment would top the year's list of the World's 50 Best Bars.
Chetiyawardana, popularly known as Mr Lyan, is one of the most recognizable bartenders on the planet — (No small feat. How many bartenders can you name, let alone pick out of a lineup?) — and his flagship seemed to be setting the gold standard for cocktail bars the world over. So, as Dandelyan neared its fourth birthday, he shut the whole thing down to start from scratch.
"A lot of people questioned whether we had known [about the award]," said Chetiyawardana in an interview with Travel + Leisure. " We totally didn't. I can understand the panic that the 50 Best people might have had. Wait a minute, is the bar shut? But that decision wasn't something that was done flippantly. It had been building for a while."
The noted bartender spoke with T+L during a brief break from overseeing renovations, just a few days before the reopening. "We've had a lot of peering in from the sidewalk," he said. "People are really intrigued by the metamorphosis." Acknowledging the quick turnaround — Dandelyan officially closed on March 17 — he admitted, "We've never done anything on this kind of timeline. People, in their heads, expected it to be months...which is probably the normal thing to do."
Today, the space welcomes its new, not-very-normal tenant. Lyaness doesn't represent a full one-eighty, per se, but it's certainly a pendulum swing. The enviable waterfront address — on the ground floor of Sea Containers London, a design-forward hotel on the quickly developing South Bank — has been fully renovated with a brighter, more lively vibe. Jacu Strauss, who helped map out Dandelyan while working for Tom Dixon’s Design Research Studio, recently came on as creative director for the Lore Group (owner of Sea Containers) and spearheaded the design for the new bar. Brass accents, floral motifs, and pink banquettes have been replaced with a palette of baby blues and soft grays. Only the iconic serpentinite bar remains.
But the major shift is a philosophical one. In a way, Chetiyawardana is taking a step back — looking at Dandelyan's legacy, the state of the industry, and where cocktails should be going next. "It became apparent that the conversation had shifted," he said, "and it was apparent that we should shift things up too." The bar pioneered what we would now call a "botanical" approach, with intriguing, vegetal flavor profiles and fantastical garnishes. Its influence on cocktail culture cannot be overstated.
Now that the aesthetic is mainstream, though, Chetiyawardana wanted to do something different. The backbone of the Lyaness menu comprises seven base ingredients, developed to emphasize flavors underrepresented in the cocktail sphere (peanuts, raspberry). Five are made in house, and two are partnerships: a whisky collaboration with Compass Box, and a new spirit developed with Empirical Spirits. For each ingredient, there are three recommended iterations, making for 21 drinks — but that's just the menu. Part of the fun is that you can use the base ingredients to make, basically, whatever you want.
"Cocktail bars are still a bit alienating to people," Chetiyawardana continued. "At Lyaness, you don't have to know too much about the ingredients. We've created examples of how we think they can work, but you can also use your own experience." What does that look like? "You might see the 'Infinite Banana' [a funky, savory, uber-banana-y cordial] — we've suggested it in a Painkiller-type drink, but you might really love a French 75. We'll say yes." He compared the process to shopping at the farmers market, picking up interesting ingredients to incorporate into reliable recipes. "You'll have a drink that you're comfortable and familiar with, but the ingredient will transport it and show you what the breadth of drinks can be like. And it can still be magical."
Chetiyawardana says he was guided by the concept of approachability, saying, "we wanted to democratize." It's a value he started developing at Dandelyan, but one that was often overshadowed by the sheer creativity and whimsy of the menu. "We had people really excited about what was going on, and willing to participate in it," he said. He created an atmosphere where guests could ask questions and where staff could collaborate in the creative process. "We didn't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater."
For him, the lioness figure sums up these guiding principles. "They are the social guides, the hunters, and the ones that lead the pride. They shape everything. We wanted to hunt down incredible flavors, but make them accessible to people."
The new bar is the first stop on what will soon be a global Mr Lyan circuit, as Chetiyawardana heads to the Netherlands in a few weeks for his venture outside London: Super Lyan, which is "relocating" from its previous home in Hoxton. He arrives stateside later this year, this time in another Lore Collection hotel, the forthcoming Riggs D.C.
Said Chetiyawardana: "We owed a duty to Dandelyan, and to all that went into it, for it to evolve."