The beautiful and new Lyaness, formerly the Dandelyan, at the Sea Containers hotel, formerly the Mondrian, cocktail bar is sure rocket up the list with award-winning Mr Lyan (Ryan Chetiyawardana) and team in charge of the venue.
Those familiar with the history of the site will know it was once the place of the World’s Best Cocktail Bar Dandelyan, but a shock announcement that the site would close meant the venue needed a bar.
The bar’s cocktails are driven by the team’s desire to source and use unusual ingredients, merging the alien and weird into something the delicious.
Physically, the layout of the bar has changed little since its previous tenants, but it has been given a fresh new makeover, featuring gold, blue and silver fixtures, fittings and soft furnishings.
The cocktail menu is clean and simply designed, with one drink per page featuring a line drawing that shows the style of glass a drink will be served in.
Because each drink is given a whole page to itself, the menu is chunky. But that doesn’t mean the drinks on there are just taking up space.
It is a well thought out menu that features some standout drinks including the Whisky Smash, made with Compass Box; Queenie Harvard, made using Martell VSOP; and the Snap Crackle Bellini, made with Tapatio Blanco.
For those wondering about the time of day they should be drinking which cocktails on the menu, there’s also a handy graph showing said information.
Coronavirus will undoubtedly leave a dark mark on the UK’s cocktail bar scene, but many owners have been planning for the future of their bars since lockdown began.
Bartending heavyweight Alex Lawrence who, as global bar director for Mr Lyan and co-creator of Coca-Cola Signature Mixers Woody Notes, has never been busier planning out what the renowned London bar will offer when it reopens.
Alex knows he and the bar are in a lucky position, pointing out the fact he knows some of his favourite bars in the UK and overseas are unlikely to reopen again, but “it’s likely that the Mr Lyan venues will reopen and how much they will change is up for debate.
“Our operation will have to change with social distancing. But we are certainly going to reopen our hotel venues.”
When talking about change, Alex is already working out what a venue operating under social distancing rules would look like. Obviously, tables will have to be set further apart, which means fewer customers through the door. However, it’s not just about the capacity, he acknowledges the actual drinking experience will have to remain the same as it always has – confident and experienced bartenders serving pristine drinks – but not necessarily with the same ingredients.
Alex believes there may be a reduction in availability ingredients used in food and drink across the hospitality sector. But, he also believes there will be an increased focus on sustainability – more so than in the run up to the global coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, the main area to consider within bars – post-lockdown – is the psychological impact this whole experience has had on consumers. “We need to make people feel comfortable in half-empty spaces,” he continues.
“To have this many people worried, and rightfully so, we need to think how we are going to make our offer more comfortable. It’s about changing the whole look and feel of everything. All of these businesses are probably going to have to streamline to something softer and more comfortable. Cleaner.
“We need to think how we’re going to seat people. What’s on the table? Things will have to be clean and freshly placed in front of customers with each sitting. In restaurants, you have these garish cleaning products and you usually hide the cleaning process, but now it’s going to have to be in your face to add that sense of security for customers.”
And, as outlined at the start, the bartender community has been finding silver linings throughout this whole experience, whether it’s positive things to commend now – such as communities coming together – or business opportunities that have occurred in recent weeks that can grow in ‘normal’ times in the future.
“We’ve done some outreach, which has been more about engaging with the community and sending little packages saying ‘it’s rough and have a cocktail on us’,” he says. “I guess lots of people are doing this, but it’s actually an arm of the business that may well have to continue.” He is alluding to a potential rise in the number of cocktail bars sending out cocktails by delivery and as takeaways.
It is something many bars – particularly Be At One – have dabbled in with various levels of success. But now the discerning cocktail drinker doesn’t have a choice; if they want a brilliant cocktail made with a story and using high-quality ingredients, the only place they can get them is from a bar. Add to this the fact that the nation’s psyche has changed and people may not all initially want to go to a bar, even when allowed to, so the sector has a potential new revenue stream.
“We need to think that people may not be ready to go out any time soon and have got used to a cocktail delivered to their houses and that disappearing afterwards is ridiculous,” he explains.
“These models in delivery and online masterclasses, they’re permanent changes and it’s going through the roof. I truly believe that we’ve all been dabbling in it.”
Yet, it’s not goodbye to the bar scene. “Bars are modern community centres and the point is it’s not just the cocktail offering driving people to them. You go to a bar like the Lyaness and it’s a hyper-specialised experience with great ingredients where you have guidance through the menu. That’s not going to be delivered in delivery.”
But this all comes back to the enforced closure of the trade. With everyone having to get off the proverbial treadmill, there’s no excuse to not think about the future and refine an offering. The sector is undoubtedly going to have to change, Alex makes that clear, but why not harness that change and be the one who directs it, rather than allowing the decision of what it looks like be made for you?
“Bars and restaurants, when they’re open, are moving organisms and very difficult to change,” Alex explains. “We’re assessing really top-line stuff right now and it’s not just looking at how we can be more sustainable, it’s looking at what brand pillars we can have in the future when the doors are open again.
“We’re looking at training materials and trying to avoid them being standardised and soulless because the average bartender doesn’t read bar manuals.”
He is also eager to ensure the business’s culture is heading in the right place, pointing out that it’s a difficult thing to change: “I can tell you how to make a cocktail but it takes a long time to change culture.
“Ultimately, it means when we execute things, we’re going to come out much better from a cultural perspective and I guess we’re just trimming the fat and looking at what our bars are. You don’t really get the opportunity to pivot a business like this that often.”
And finally, the million-pound question, what does the future have in store for the UK’s once-exploding cocktail bar scene? All things considered, it’s taken close to a decade to establish London as the cocktail capital of the world, as well a gathering cocktail bar momentum in satellite cities across the UK. Is it all over now?
“It depends on so many things,” Alex ponders. “The reason London is so exciting is because of its diversity. This pandemic, however, is going to force us to be even more so. I always find the best creativity comes from a difficult situation.
“Londoners are strong and resilient. There will be a sombre period where things are sad. People go to bars and restaurants to feel better. We will get there. I feel better about it already. We will get through it.
“The people in this sector are a bunch of tough cookies. There’s never been a single point in the past six weeks where I’ve spoken to anyone in our industry who has ever felt like giving up. Everyone is doing what they can and no one is bitter. No one is ‘woe is me’.
“We just need to continue thinking: ‘How are we going to reopen and how can we do it better?’.”