Down the Riggs hotel lobby’s grand circular staircase, past the massive gumball machine, and straight through its brightly lit fitness facility lies a secret spot to share a bottle of booze with your friends.
Legendary London mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana — aka “Mr. Lyan” — is finally ready to talk about the curious hangout he’s been hiding directly across from his award-winning Penn Quarter cocktail lair Silver Lyan (900 F Street NW).
The small subterranean sibling, dubbed Dishonesty Bar, is surrounded with soft crimson couches, curtains, and its main menu: bottles of everything from Jameson to vintage cognac to rare Japanese whiskey, each nestled in one of 23 illuminated lockers. Guests can hook up their own playlists to an iPad to moonlight as the evening’s in-house DJ. A spinning globe opens in half, James Bond style, to reveal fun-size Cheetos and Pringles for snacking.
“It’s like throwing your own party in a hotel room,” says Silver Lyan’s general manager Vlad Novikov, who handles day-to-day operations at Dishonesty Bar.
With no infrastructure to house an actual bar, the original plan was to construct a “chill-out” room for those working out. “But it [seemed] such a shame to have such a characterful space simply be occasionally used,” Chetiyawardana tells Eater.
Even the gym teases the oddities in store, with a handsome leather punching bag solely just for show hanging near Dishonesty Bar’s unmarked door. Once inside, a gold lion-shaped key unlocks cabinets currently filled with the likes of 25-year El Dorado, 12-year Yamazaki, Hennessy Paradis, Don Julio 1942, and Frapin 1979.
“If you want a bottle, break the seal, and it’s considered yours,” per its guidelines.
A $500 restocking fee counts towards a minimum spend (subject to tax and service charge). Dishonesty Bar nicely fits 8 — “or up to 12 if you’re willing to get cozy.”
Instead of walking over Silver Lyan’s ambitious cocktails and lavish martini service, it made most sense to stick to its own stockpile of spirits and let guests create their own cute club.
“Some of my favourite memories of opening total unicorn bottles of whisky have been with a ‘fuck it’ attitude late-night with dear friends. I wanted more people to be able to experience that,” says Chetiyawardana.
A dedicated team member checks in every now and then with a knock to refresh silver buckets of ice, mixers, and glassware. Ordering Champagne and wine is also an option.
“It took a long time to figure out the best way to use the space and not make it a thoughtless room,” says Novikov, a former director of cocktails and culture at Chicago’s glitzy Peninsula hotel. “We ended up realizing we have a sexy space that speaks for itself.”
“A lot of industry folks don’t want a cocktail at the end of the night — they want good music and a bottle of booze in place to have a conversation in a private space,” says Novikov.
Beta drinkers literally left their mark on Dishonesty Bar by scribbling random notes, initials, and workplaces in colorful chalk. The walls continue to be fair game for any guest to do the same, and get painted over in black to clear the way for new names coming through.
Those with large Silver Lyan buyouts, itching to “peel off and have a little whiskey tasting or bachelorette situation,” have also graced the space. And now, leading into the holiday season, Dishonesty Bar has made itself available to more spontaneous requests from the public (limited to one booking each night).
“Whether they come in at 8:30 p.m. or 10 p.m., we aim to have the experience end at midnight,” he says. That decided closing time stems from recent R&D, when a group of three guys tried to overstay their welcome.
“Anything you don’t finish [from the bottle] you can take with you. We want to encourage indulging without being irresponsible about consumption,” he says.
The reservation-only room is a portal to the past, originally built in the late 1800s as an underground vault for Riggs National Bank.
Before Lore Group opened the opulent, 181-room hotel and its ground-floor Café Riggs in early 2020, the basement functioned as a business center full of lowered ceilings, partitioned walls, a Starbucks, and even a swimming pool.
“We didn’t know much about the full bones until we started removing bits,” says Chetiyawardana. The same was true for Silver Lyan, which housed the bank’s main vault back in the day.
The little side escape was created with Riggs designer Jacu Strauss’ mantra in mind, of making the hotel “a public place for private affairs.”
Nearly 4-year-old Silver Lyan, Chetiyawardana’s first project in the states, builds upon the success of his overseas cocktail portfolio that includes Super Lyan in Amsterdam and London’s Lyaness and Seed Library.
One night out in Sydney years ago sparked the idea behind his new pint-size D.C. venture. After his friends at the Baxter Inn won a lifetime achievement award, its team tasked Chetiyawardana to dive into the tiny cellar and pick something to celebrate with. He went with 40-year Laphroaig — a Holy Grail of Scotch whisky that easily goes for $15,000 per bottle — they enjoyed while “blasting LCD Soundsystem and confusing the hell out of the rest of the guests in the bar.”