White Lyan is a London cocktail establishment that dances to a slightly different drum. Located in the Hoxton neighborhood of East London, the bar has built a name for itself by offering a contrasting approach to traditional, theatrical bartender finaglings: think pre-mixed cocktails with no ice, no visual frills, and nary a dose of mixology druthers. With a licence to alter base spirits and a mise en place not unlike that of a top kitchen, at White Lyan your poison has been through copious machinations to attain perfect pitch. Acid, alkaline, minerality—words familiar to brew boffins in the coffee industry—are all considered in the chemistry of this cocktail bar’s offerings.
And now, in a brief spring experiment that may well stick around as the seasons change, White Lyan’s Ryan Chetiyawardana and Iain Griffiths have launched a daytime coffee concept called, cheekily, Black Lyan. So how exactly does a successful evenings-only cocktail bar by night become a daytime coffee spot? Is it even possible to juggle that duality and offer multiple experiences within the same day under the same room? Read on.
The men behind White Lyan, the cocktail bar, came up with the idea for Black Lyan, the coffee haunt, from the simplest well of inspiration: the desire for diversification. Simply put, this evenings-only cocktail bar wanted to move service into the day, and seeing London’s thriving coffee scene around them, the next step was natural. “Ryan and I were chatting,” says Griffiths, “because there’s a strong sustainability focus in White Lyan, and we were really looking at the fact that we were utilizing the venue for six hours a night, seven days a week. It ties into our general approach: we do a lot of future trend forecasting and looking at how social demographics change. And it’s becoming more and more a thing where people need to find second and third uses for spaces.”
The pair have strong feelings about their local patch on Hoxton Street, a previously forlorn area of Shoreditch that didn’t quite attract the footfall required to ensure a thriving community. Attention has been given in the last few years, with Griffiths remarking that “the council has taken huge steps with it all. The local council member said ‘I feel like Hoxton Street is the forgotten street of East London and we want to change that’.” An early press release sent out by Griffiths announced their intention for Black Lyan to provide “a much needed space and service for the busy daytime activities around Hoxton.”
White Lyan has now gathered coffee into its fold, reapplying its urge to craft beverages into precise permutations. Coffee service is fronted by Maja Jaworska—their appointed “Brew Bar Queen”—previously a barista at Workshop Coffee’s original Clerkenwell location and the Notes coffee bar in Central London. “I think I would say that this place is unique,” Jaworska told me. ” You can’t really base it on anything else.” That means working on calcium and magnesium levels in batches of “customized” water, using coffee from top roasters around Europe and pairing them with different batches of water to best effect, tailoring the water to the coffee, and having maximum control over details like mineral content.
The move from night to day relies on atmosphere, and is juxtaposed with White Lyan’s minimalist self-described “80s cocaine den” interior aesthetic. “We don’t really want to lose a lot of that,” says Griffiths, “but we’re going to start off by opening up a window and bringing the outside in.” There is an element of control in every choice made at the bar, something that Griffiths described as “a concise offering—not just opening the doors and going, ‘Hey, yeah, we do everything.”
From Sandows of London, a nitro cold brew is available on draught—the first time the company’s product will be fixed in place on a bar in the city. With the looks of a smooth serving of Guinness, the resulting cold coffee has a creamy top layer and dark body. “The brewed coffee menu is ever-changing,” says Griffiths. “If we can only find three bags of something we think is super cool, we’re not constrained to just following one path and we can have it on the bar for a day. There’s a huge versatility to it all.” Jaworska selects from a maximum of six roasters daily.
In execution, the bar I stepped into on a Monday morning was blinking in the spring sunshine and furnished with gleaming coffee equipment—it felt legit. An EK 43 espress grinder perched above the pre-dosed coffee selection next to the Sandows draught pump. Equipment was lined up with intent: v60, Chemex, AeroPress, and Woodneck brew methods, with usage decided by Jaworska’s palate. On my visit, I had the option to choose from three UK roasters—Square Mile, Notes, Origin—and three from further away—The Barn (Berlin), Koppi (Sweden), and Tim Wendelboe (Oslo). A concise offering of three teas round out the beverage options at Black Lyan, and have been sourced from the Rare Tea Company, a London tea purveyor with an excellent reputation in this city’s food and beverage industry. Peckish at the Lyan? You can grab a Crosstown doughnut or a sandwich prepared by Chetiyawardana, who happens to be an ex-chef.
Oh, but it wouldn’t be a Lyan, White or Black, without a bit of envelope pushing. Griffiths has concocted what he calls, and I quote, “Instant Bulletproof eXpresso”—comprised of dehydrated granules of coffee oil, chicory, coffee distillate, butter, and Demerara sugar. Another drink, the “Daily Grind” cocktail, is made by fine-layering coffee with different dried botanicals and different kinds of sugar, then running water and alcohol through to produce a cocktail that comes through the other side. Since Griffiths’ interest in coffee has developed, he will apply keen attention to the ground coffee used, rather than what he jokingly calls “whatever Annette (Moldvaer, of Square Mile Coffee Roasters) used to give me for free.” He and the roastery are keeping schtum on “several” new coffee & alcohol projects set to debut around the rapidly approaching 2015 London Coffee Festival.
Black Lyan is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Initially launched as just a two-week pop-up, response has been sufficient for the bar to extend their run through the month of April and into May. But does that mean the pop-up will stay put, go permanent, and become part of the daily Hoxton scene? “Perhaps”, says Griffiths, “provided the support and customers are there.”
“All you can really do is open the door and wait to see how it evolves.”
Photos by Giulia Mule for Sprudge.com.