Earlier this month, Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, launched Super Lyan in Amsterdam – his second opening of three planned for 2019. Millie Milliken made the trip from London to talk with him about Cosmos on draught, deep-fried mayo and why he’d be happy to get stuck in a lift with his team
‘I’m still having trouble with the name of the street we’re on, which isn’t ideal,’ Ryan Chetiyawardana laughs, over a bacon bao and a Lyan Mary. It's the morning after the launch of Super Lyan at the Kimpton de Witt hotel in Amsterdam, his latest opening.
If Chetiyawardana was having trouble finding his own venue on Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal 3 (go on, dare ya), the rest of Amsterdam certainly wasn't – the night before, while he helped his team behind the bar, a glut of the city turned up in force to celebrate his first venture in the Netherlands’ capital.
Super Lyan marks Chetiyawardana's first foray into the ‘all-day bar’ concept: ‘Late-night cocktails have always been our bread and butter, and this daytime offering isn’t something we’ve done in the past. It’s been the most exciting bit for me.' The shift comes from research the team did on how the Dutch gather, taking what they learnt from spending time in the city (that the Dutch are 'progressive and optimistic') and allowing it to inform how the project evolved.
One of their main takeaways was the importance of food. ‘Eating with cocktails is a big thing here, which is a marked difference to how we enjoy them back home.’ The bar’s food menu was as much a focus at the launch as the drinks, with generous trays of branded vegan doughnuts, Indo-Dutch satay and deep-fried mayonnaise balls (inspired by the locals’ love of chips and mayo) circulating regularly.
The space lends itself to the concept too. The airy Garden Room is all white walls and indoor plants with an open-plan layout and a glass ceiling, letting natural light in for guests to work or socialise during the day with a Lyan Mary, tea or coffee. The adjoining main area is for partying, with a central pink neon-lit bar giving off retro '50s vibes. There's also a sunken semi-private room offering an option for events (it serves as refuge for the bar cat, Robin, as well).
Followers of the Lyan dynasty may be surprised at the drinks offering at Super Lyan. ‘What we’re doing here isn’t as geeky as, say, Lyaness,’ explains Chetiyawardana. ‘We wanted to take things that are already familiar and put our spin on them instead.’ Indeed, the scope of ingredients scattered throughout are ‘trademark Lyan’. A trio of hardshakes and floats uses vegan dairy alternatives, the highball list features local vermouths and cream gin, and breakfast cocktails contain salt-baked pomegranate and cold-brew coffee.
It’s the classics that the team has had the most fun with, though. ‘Moscow Mules are really popular out here but we wanted to make it a bit different. Ginger is a big flavour in the drink but it can fade quite quickly – so we’ve added chilli to hold that spice flavour just a little bit longer.’
The biggest statement is perhaps the Cosmopolitan, served on draught. ‘The draught cocktails are our biggest risk – especially with something like a Cosmo, admits Chetiyawardana. The drink made famous by Carrie Bradshaw and co isn’t an obvious choice. ‘It should be a delicious drink, but it can be, and has been, made so badly in bars. By putting the nitrogen through it, it makes it feel a lot more adult and showcases just how delicious the flavours can be.’
With three new bars opening in 2019 (Lyaness in London, Super Lyan and Silver Lyan in Washington later this year), I’m keen to find out how Ryan manages his ever-growing team remotely. ‘Yes, we’ve got a massive team,’ he answers with a long intake of breath, ‘but we’ve got certain factors – both creative and electronic – to make the process efficient. Everyone is allowed to get involved. We have weekly creative meetings with leads so we aren’t just throwing ideas at walls.’
Surely selecting an experienced team is the crux of the matter? ‘When we started out, my sister Karen said that we should only hire people we would be happy to be stuck in a lift with. A lot of the techniques we do are atypical, so it’s not about having loads of experience in making cocktails. This job is literally about making people happy – if they’re sensitive to that, then we want them.'