White Lyan: the bar with no ice

Words by: Ian Cameron
Pictures by: Dan Malpass

12:35 GMT // 20 Aug 2013

A bar with no ice, no citrus, no back-bar and barely any brands visible. A bar where there's no shaking or stirring, because the drinks will take molecular to the next level. A bar where every drink will be served on a cloud that floats across the bar.

Rumours around the first solo project between Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths are rife, but only some of them are true.

The duo are set to open their first solo project together next month in an as-yet less trendy part of Hoxton. But while Ryan (formerly of Bramble, Edinburgh and 69 Colebrook Row, Purl and Worship Street Whistling Shop in London), and right hand man Iain (Bramble, Edinburgh and Eau de Vie, Sydney), say their bar will be unlike any other that has come before, they insist their revolutionary drinking concept is neither contrived nor unconventional for its own sake.

When it reopens its doors in mid-September, the White Lyan on Hoxton Street (the former White Lion, its name cunningly doctored to accommodate the name of Ryan's creative business and his childhood moniker) will instead allow bartenders to interact with their customers like never before.

Rumour mill


So what is the truth about the concept?

To be totally transparent, the drinks they serve will all be pre-batched. But batching is hardly hot news - the difference here is what exactly they will be putting into the mix. The first rule is that there's nothing perishable in the bar at all. So that includes, but is not limited to, citrus. "People have been asking us 'Why are you not using lemons?'" says Ryan. "When we turn that around and ask 'Why are you using lemons?', I think it's easier for us to answer." With a nod to the work he has done with various alternatives to citric acid, he adds: "There are plenty of other souring agents."

The duo will be making their own spirits. They have a compounder's licence so will be able to buy in large batches of spirit, then either redistil, macerate sous vide or infuse it to get the effect they want. Spirit brands will therefore not be centre stage. "It allows us to make the spirit work for the cocktail, rather than the opposite convention," says Ryan. "We're saying 'this is a serve we're proud of but it's not all about the spirit base'."

They insist this is not because they find brand-calling repugnant, rather that they're removing the burden of choice. "Too much choice is difficult and can blind people," says Iain. "We don't have the ability to do pouring deals but will be working with brands. We'll definitely be less of a shop and more of a partner."

They will put their own finish on bought-in beers, with a citrus hops atomisation that can effectively turn a pale ale into an IPA; and on wine, with a barrel-oaked atomisation. "When we talk about putting our own finish on things, this is where some people are gonna hate us," says Ryan, referring to brand owners and drinks marketeers.

Chicken bone tincture


What about liqueurs? They "won't be relying" on liqueurs. And bitters? They're not even going to attempt to try and improve on the likes of Angostura.

The idea of a bar with no ice may seem comedically ironic to some, in a nod to the English reputation for serving warm beer. And indeed there won't any be ice but that doesn't mean there won't be dilution or that drinks won't be served cold.

The latter is easily solved by careful refrigeration of everything they make, and means no space is taken up with an ice well, while the water they add to drinks will also be doctored. They'll be controlling the flavour of the water by filtering it through not one, but two types of charcoal and adding their own mix of mineral content (sodium, potassium and calcium among other). "It's amazing to see how different the mouth-feel and length is in a drink when you're not 'tasting' ice," says Ryan.

Despite the unusual starting ethos, the style of drinks serve is conventional. This scotches those rumours about molecular drinks, born, presumably, from the fact Ryan briefly worked for Tony Conigliaro and spent much of his time at the Worship Street Whistling Shop in the small in-bar lab. And there will be no surprises with glassware either.

On the menu are three signatures: first up is a Bone Dry Martini, made with their house vodka, and flavoured with a bone tincture (made of roasted chicken bones dissolved in phosphoric acid and mineral salts). It will be made in batches of ten bottles at a time.

Then there's the Lyan Club Cocktail, akin to a Gin Fizz, but playing with texture using ingredients such as agar agar xantham, red apple turmeric shrub, citric acid, gin and soda. It will be prepped on a milkshake machine, foamy and white looks like gin fizz, then soda added.

Next, there's a Negroni-style drink, made with gin redistilled with mint, a house blend of commercial vermouths, amaro and Campari, with grapefruit over the top. The glass will first be coated in an orange distillate and a match struck inside to add a sulphurous note.

the art of hosting


The concept means the boys' time will be freed up to act differently during service. They'll being able to chat without having to repeatedly pause to make and shake a cocktail, and they'll be able to leave the confines of the bar and walk among the people. The much-lauded theatre of modern mixology is practically eliminated but that's okay, they say, because they want to appeal to drinkers who aren't conventional cocktail fans. It's more about the art of hosting - so Ryan, who owns the business with his sisters, won't be called 'head bartender' and Iain won't have a conventional 'GM'-style title, though they're not quite sure what they will be called yet.

"Ultimately we wanted to look after people, so from the offset we are going to be talking to people, helping them enjoy the space," says Ryan. "We want our guests to enjoy the things cocktails can do without being in an overtly 'cocktail' environment, there's actually less centred on us. And we'll make drinks faster - they'll be ready in 20-30 seconds and that won't distract from a dialogue."

They're not afraid of running out of chat and insist they won't miss the need to make drinks to dip out of hard conversations - "we are both loud and talk a lot."

Outside of service they reckon they'll be just as busy as in a conventional bar, but with more time spent batching rather than cutting and squeezing citrus, or on ordering products.

They are remaining tight-lipped on the interior concept of the bar, save to say they are moving from a neighbourhood pub to a "cocktail bar for people that don't drink cocktails". "It will be comfortable and beautiful," is all Iain will say. The basement will have later hours, the music will play louder and the furniture can be danced upon, he added.

Having taken over the White Lion just three weeks ago, and with the doors on the bar set to open in only a few more weeks, how are the boys feeling about how their unusual concept will go down?

"This is our first solo project so we wanted it to be a splash, and I'm aware some bartenders may initially think we are insulting them, but we really hope people don't hate us and I hope they do come and experience it for themselves," says Ryan. "At the end of the day they can still get a beer and a shot."

"We are confident about it all," adds Iain. "Anxiety doesn't come into it, we're super-excited."

That leaves us with just one other rumour to test: will drinks really be served on a cloud that floats across the bar? "Wow. That was the strangest one we heard," says Ryan. "I wish we were, that would really be something."




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