One of the World’s Top Bartenders Is Opening a DC Cocktail Spot With Fancy Jell-O Shots and Microwaved Manhattans

London's Ryan Chetiyawardana is about to debut cutting-edge Silver Lyan in Penn Quarter

Silver Lyan from famed London-based bartender Mr Lyan opens in Riggs DC. Photograph by Peden Munk

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The world’s best bartenders have plenty of fancy gadgets at their disposal. But if there’s one technique that exemplifies Ryan Chetiyawardana’s playful style, it’s nuking drinks in an everyday microwave. 

“It’s a technique we’ve been playing around with for years,” says Chetiyawardana, who goes by Mr Lyan (“which is arguably easier to say,” he explains). A Manhattan had just appeared on the cocktail table before us at his first-ever venture outside Europe, Silver Lyan, which opens in the Riggs DC hotel on Friday, Feb. 7. “It’s almost like rapid aging. We wanted a soft, rich, rounded style of Manhattan.” Chetiyawardana says the microwave doesn’t cook off the alcohol, but rather mellows all of the elements so they’re not so “spiky.”

Chetiyawardana has earned many lofty awards, including World’s Most Influential Bar Personality and World’s Best Bar 2018 for Dandelyan in London. He closed it shortly after, citing the bar’s four-year age and writing on Instagram that “it makes sense to burn it down, start afresh, and rise again as something brighter, shinier and more fitting of where we’re (all) now at.” True to tone, Mr Lyan and his ventures in London, Amsterdam, and now DC buck against the notion that good cocktails, and cocktail service, are pretentious, precious, or formal.

The 75-seat bar is partially located in a former bank vault. Photograph by Jennifer Hughes.

Cue the Jell-O shots—because of course there are Jell-O shots—reimagined as a “Jello fruit basket” with booze-infused apple, orange, pineapple, and passionfruit jellies, plus four shooters of Gosset Grand Reserve Champagne.

“I was in New Orleans with a prominent whiskey blender who got very excited about Jell-O shots and ordered a lot of them,” says Chetiyawardana. “We were stained all red. It felt so fun. We [at Silver Lyan] are all about, ‘How do we transform these things that people disregard and don’t think will ever be adult and complex?’”

The design follows suit. Like the rest of the posh, brand-new hotel from international hospitality company Lore Group,  Silver Lyan resides in Penn Quarter’s historic Riggs bank building. Part of the subterranean 75-seat bar is located in the bank’s 19th century vault, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it from the wall-to-wall cases of female amateur sports trophies.

“Base’s Loaded,” a riff on a New York sour with a local chokeberry float. Photograph by Peden Munk.

“We’re not the first group to take on an old bank building. We didn’t want to be so literal about things,” says designer Jacu Strauss, who collected the trophies from a mix of friends, colleagues, and Etsy. “We wanted to have something that sparkles, we want it to be surprising, but we didn’t want anything gimmicky.”

Banking is loosely referenced on Chetiyawardana’s menu (see below) in themes of exchange. Before becoming a self-described “cocktail bartender,” Mr Lyan’s education was in fine arts, biology, and philosophy, and many of his creations have a studious backstory. The menu’s first section, “cultural exchange,” explores historical transactions in DC. So yes, there’s a cherry blossom-inspired cocktail, but it’s not what you expect. Chetiyawardana homes in on an ornate Japanese saddle—the drink’s namesake—that was gifted by Japan alongside the famous trees, and infuses the Roku gin-based cocktail with leather bitters and saline capers.

Creative bar bites accompany the drinks, such as cured cucumbers or summer rolls. Photograph by Peden Munk.

Many drinks on the menu start at $14. However, one drink, “Presidential Gift,” may be the priciest concoction in the city at $375. The amount nods to the gift amount a sitting president can legally accept. Then it dives deeper. It also plays on Andrew Carnegie’s present of fine Scotch to President Benjamin Harrison in 1891 (also the date the Riggs building was built). Chetiyawardana mixes the drink with “exceptional single cask” Scotch from a distillery closest to Carnegie’s choice, as well as off-market honey from the Presidential cemetery and a gold cherry (among other ingredients).

“It’s an expensive serve, but it’s not about the bling of it. It’s something that has an incredible rarity to it,” says Chetiyawardana.

And if it’s not a $375 drink kind of night, there’s always a $16 spiffed-up cosmo.

Silver Lyan. 900 F St., NW (opening Friday, February 7). Open nightly starting at 5 PM.

See samples of the menu below:

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.