Ryan Chetiyawardana, better known as Mr Lyan, is a mixologist and founder of award-winning bars in London, Amsterdam and Washington DC.
What attracted you to mixology?
It was slightly accidental falling into this world, but a nice balance of my interests. I studied biology and fine arts and had been doing research into each of those fields, but there was nothing to really have as a main output for these. [I had a] lightbulb moment of realising that I could bring those worlds together.
How does travel impact mixology?
You uncover wonderful human stories and notice different rituals around gathering, dining and celebrating. Food and drink are a real demonstration of how people behave, interact and live. Travel gives you such a window into different perspectives, and shifts your way of thinking.
Does sustainability feed into the process?
It’s a fascinating topic for me and wonderful to see it become part of the everyday conversation. Having Sinhalese-Buddhist parents, I was taught not to waste and to be considerate about where things come from. Sustainability became a foundational aspect of the Lyan project [White Lyan, which operated until 2017 in London’s Hoxton, was the first bar in the world not to use perishable items in cocktails]. As the years have gone by, we have used sustainability as a guiding pillar.
How do we apply that thoughtful process to everything we do? Sustainability is never a static conversation. When we started, it was around material waste. Now it’s about the responsibility that industry has to make big changes. We continue to push that conversation and move forward with brilliant innovations.
Have you seen a rise in demand for non-alcoholic or low-alcohol drinks?
It’s not so much that it’s a trend, it’s that the industry has caught up with the fact that we need to be welcoming to a wider range of people. In the same way that, ten years ago, restaurants only had a handful of options for vegetarians.
There were people that come in for a big celebration and want cocktails and the fanfare, but [bars] weren’t welcoming people who were beer-drinkers, non-drinkers and so on. We need to cater for every palate and eventuality. Why shouldn’t you be able to make a great drink for someone if they are avoiding a certain ingredient? It’s a step up in professionalism in my eyes.
What inspired your partnership with British Airways’ lounges at Heathrow?
Lounges were seen as a functional place where people would decompress and grab something quick. We wanted to bring hospitality to an unexpected place and bring wonder to that moment. I really believe in the power that cocktails have for different headspaces – you might want to relax or kickstart a holiday.
I also wanted to reflect the values of BA and the best of British ingredients. It was about giving an extra layer of story to the drinks [so] I looked at things which celebrated the air, such as wind-pollinated ingredients.
Why have you chosen for your bars to be within hotels?
I’ve always been amazed by hotel bars, especially in the UK. There’s the opportunity for covering the full range of hospitality that most other venues can’t afford, and hotels have a whole machine set up for that. It’s the best of both worlds. I remember visiting hotel bars as a young bartender and thinking they were remarkable, with a wonderfully exciting level of detail.
It’s wonderful to have those grand hotel bars, but we wanted to bring in a more neighbourhood vibe with a five-star approach to hospitality. I was very fortunate to have conversation with people in hotel groups that were sharing that mentality. When we first opened Dandelyan, I don’t think there was a bar like that in the world. Now you also have things that feel quite casual and independent. That’s what we were trying to encourage and it’s wonderful to see how much that has broadened as a landscape now.
Travel has changed as well, with the lifestyle aspect [becoming more important]. Even if it’s just for a solo business trip, why shouldn’t people have a hotel bar that reflects an interesting part of the world and is joyous rather than just functional.
What are your favourite bars?
Bramble in Edinburgh, sherry bar La Venencia in Madrid and sake bar Ante in Sydney. There’s something magical about stepping into those spaces.
It’s really hard to pick a favourite though. Food and drink is like music, it changes dependant on who you’re with and what mood you’re in.
And favourite drinks?
My go-to cocktail is a scotch and soda – I can order it anywhere and it covers any mood. But the martini is the one for something that feels a little more special.
What about an ingredient?
Tea. It’s a superstar ingredient, with tannins and complexity. It’s a powerlifter when you’re making non-alcoholic drinks.
What’s been your most rewarding travel experience?
We just came back from Vegas where my wife and I got married. That’s always going to trump any trip for me because it’s got a once-in-a-lifetime magic to it.
And most challenging?
I’m very lucky in that I haven’t had anything that’s gone particularly wrong, but it’s been more hectic than anything. I did a series of talks around the world and we did 40 hours in Delhi, flying into the city, running around, having dinner and then going back to the airport. One of the most challenging aspects [in travel for me] is that I’m terrible with spicy food.
What’s your dream destination?
Japan remains my favourtie place to visit, but I’ve never been to South America. I’m convinced it’s going to be a huge awakening in terms of looking at new flavours and ingredients, as well as ancient cultures that link to the land in a totally different way.
What’s your indispensable travel gadget?
A rechargeable handheld fan is a definite contender, but I use my iPad the most. It’s a great multitool.
What’s your inflight entertainment pick?
Planes are one of the only places that I get a little breathing room. I don’t tend to watch a lot of films in normal life, so it’s the point that I catch up with normal culture. I enjoy being able to watch a series and dive into a comedy or slightly trashy action film as escapism.
What’s next for Mr Lyan?
It’s the 10th anniversary [of Lyan’s first opening], so we have some fun activations to come.
Business Traveller recently reviewed the Lyaness bar at Sea Containers London: