Lyaness: How the world’s best bar reinvented itself

Lyaness has emerged from the ashes of Dandelyan.
CNN  — 

Back in 2018, renowned London mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana was standing tall at the summit of the bar world.

His South Bank cocktail establishment, Dandelyan, had won just about every award going. Customers and critics fawned over his madcap liquid experiments that fit neatly under the slogan “Modern Botany.”

But half a year after it was crowned the winner of the World’s 50 Best Bars, Chetiyawardana did the last thing anyone expected – he closed Dandelyan.

After the gasps that met the announcement, cocktail enthusiasts and commentators tried to unpick the strategy.

Dandelyan’s cocktail botany theme, underpinned by an oh-so on-trend sustainability program, seemed to perfectly chime with the times.

Not to mention the sleek modern hotel bar, with views of the River Thames, was a stunning financial success, the bar sold up to 1,000 high-concept cocktails a day. It was the golden goose and cash cow of the bar industry all rolled into one.

But Chetiyawardana, who is known as Mr. Lyan, knows a thing or two about making a statement.

He’s made a career out of left-field moves – after all, this was the man who launched White Lyan in 2013, a cocktail bar without shakers and citrus. It was heresy in the cocktail world at the time.

It was probably the sheer madness of the idea that convinced Chetiyawardana it was the right play.

And while many mourned Dandelyan, out of its ashes came Lyaness.

“It was a chance to change from a position of positivity rather than negativity and to continue to challenge ourselves,” says Chetiyawardana.

“There is no timelessness at the cutting edge. London is excited by things that feel new and relevant. So why wouldn’t we change? It became obvious we had to kill Dandelyan.”

The new pride of London?

Dandelyan closed soon after it was crowned the winner of the World's 50 Best Bars in 2018.

So, has the transformation worked? Since opening, Lyaness has been inundated, beyond the usual bar opening crowds.

The throng has created more of a stand-up, bustling atmosphere rather than the old kick-back vibe of Dandelyan.

But what Lyaness lacks in big concept (there isn’t one) it makes up for in increased energy that synchronizes with a vibrant blue interior and up-tempo soundtrack.

The name, as with all of this bar family’s sites, takes its cue from Chetiyawardana’s Mr. Lyan moniker, but also represents a new direction.

“Lionesses are the leaders, the hunters, the badasses – that’s what Lyaness is focusing on: hunting out new flavors,” he says. “We’ve sharpened up the space, given it an edge, increased the energy and buzz.”

But a new name, a paint job and a fresh Spotify list doesn’t exactly make for a new bar.

To convince us Lyaness wasn’t just a PR department’s grand rebranding, it needed to add a little more to the conversation.

And it has; the bar’s inventive cocktails have certainly got people talking.

While Dandelyan’s drinks were esoteric and at times intellectual, Lyaness’ menu is more approachable.

Breaking down barriers

Lyaness was founded by renowned mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana.

It aims to break down barriers surrounding the cocktail, so that people start to think about the ingredients in drinks in the same way they do in food.

“People have an understanding about how you cook but they still have a fear about cocktails,” says Chetiyawardana.

“So how can you get people to look at ingredients in the same way? There is no difference between food and drink – it’s just we’re choosing to manifest ingredients as drinks instead of dishes.”

That mission is best communicated through familiar ingredients, and the chapters of the Lyaness menu feature staples that you’d expect to find in any cocktail bar, with each ingredient the base for three cocktails suggestions.

“We’re looking at the unobvious version of these ingredients, exploring them to find what they can be,” says Chetiyawardana.

“We’re using the main crop banana – the Cavendish – but that doesn’t mean you can’t create complex tastes.

“We’re using very slow Maillard reactions, curing, looking at the skins – we’re taking slices of flavor and blending it back, so you go from smoky and rich to delicate, tropical and floral.”

Lyaness’s Infinite Banana cordial sings through the Double Painkiller cocktail, bringing a smoky tropical note to this otherwise Tiki-style cocktail.

Its pineapple potion is another ordinary ingredient in augmented form, bent, as it is, on restoring the tropical fruit to its “Victorian glory.”

Experimental cocktails

Formerly Dandelyan, Lyaness has been a huge hit since it opened its doors earlier this year.

Deconstructed and manipulated, Purple Pineapple is an exploration of the full spectrum of flavors – including the fleeting floral, “purple” flavors, which are so often lost to generic pineapple sweetness.

Then there’s Lyaness’s Prelude. Made with vodka, Purple Pineapple, grass, Aecorn aperitif, lactic acid and soda, it’s clear, refreshing, balanced, long and about the last thing you’d expect from a pineapple drink.

Meanwhile, Ultra Raspberry showcases the humble summer berry, but replaces the conventional jammy dimension to show off the fruit’s acidity and umami.

If that all seems straight forward – on paper anyway – Lyaness does have a weird side as well.

Onyx is a custom-made ingredient in collaboration with Danish experimental distillery Empirical Spirits, which takes you way beyond your comfort zone.

The focus here is the uncharted flavors created in fermentation before alcohol is produced – think kombucha.

Black koji is used as a botanical rather than a base here, and birchwood, hibiscus and hops find their way into Onyx too.

Elsewhere is the Aromatised Milk Wine – think of a sour milk without the fattiness associated with dairy, and flavored like a vermouth, with layers of botanical notes.

Customers can try it in the Progressive Pendennis Club, which also takes in mezcal, apricot, lime and Peychaud bitters – not one for the unadventurous.

However, it’s likely to be the drinks with recognizable ingredients – banana, pineapple and raspberry – that’ll ring through the tills of Lyaness most frequently.

In fact, that’s Lyaness’s great trick. It lures you in, taking the seemingly ordinary and making it extraordinary.

Lyaness, 20 Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PD