Going 10 Rounds With Top Bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana
The award-winning British bartender and owner of the Mr. Lyan group of bars tackles our speed round of questions.
What do you like to drink after a shift? “Beer and a shot! The standard! If you’ve just broken down the bar (or you’re in a friend’s place, and they/the team have) it’s unfair to mess it up, or even get ice, so a tiny/bottle plus a dram or something is ideal.”
What is the all-time best dive bar jukebox song? “I’m the person getting weird looks from patrons and pals alike as I put on “N.I.B” by Black Sabbath.”
After all these years bartending and creating drinks, do you still enjoy going out to bars? “I love it! And I seem to be one of the rare bartenders who actually likes to drink cocktails!”
Name the first good drink you ever drank and where you had it. “I started barbacking in a bar called Santa Fe in Birmingham where I grew up, and I remember finishing a shift early on and the bartender, who was training me, knew that I loved bourbon and made me a Lynchburg Lemonade. It was sweet and tasty and blew my mind. I’d grown up drinking trashy drinks in bad clubs so it was a real revelation to taste something that tasted like it had been made, not poured from a bottle or a gun.”
What’s your favorite cocktail and food pairing? “Chilled, aged fino sherry in a proper wine glass (this is a cocktail to me) with almonds and Iberico ham.”
What drink are you most proud of creating? “Either the Rum & Coke Float at Bramble, or the Beeswax Old Fashioned for White Lyan.”
Is there one person (dead or alive) you’d like to make a cocktail for? “David Bowie.”
What’s your favorite shot-and-a-beer combination? “Guinness and Lagavulin 16 (but I’ll take a Bowmore ‘64 if I must).”
What is the one tool that you always make sure to pack when you’re traveling for business? “A tea set (a gaiwan with proper tea, and some bags of builder’s tea). You can make drinks without tools. Although, I tend to have a good knife in my bag, too.”
Ryan Chetiyawardana was named U.K. bartender of the year twice and was named international bartender of the year in 2015. He just took the top spot on Drinks International’s Bar World 100 list. He owns the group of Mr. Lyan Bars, including Lyaness in London’s Sea Containers Hotel, Super Lyan in Amsterdam and Silver Lyan that is opening in Washington, D.C.
Interview has been condensed and edited.