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Silver Lyan’s Cocktail Menu Makeover Reads Like an Anthropological Adventure

The Riggs hotel’s award-winning bar introduces ambitious ingredients like distilled emu neck and smoked bee larvae

The Redbreast whiskey-and-cacao fruit garum “Smith Island Snap” speaks to isolated Chesapeake Bay settlers who retained Elizabethan English.
Caitlin Isola

Silver Lyan’s daring new menu reads less like a drink list and more like excerpts from an adventurer’s travel log. Among the enterprising elements: tinctures made from hay-smoked bee larvae and dissolved deer antlers, mushroom caramel, rusted bitters, and a most unusual rum distilled with emu (yes, emu). Each seemingly odd ingredient plays a meaningful role in both taste and narrative, tying together a series of recipes built around the theme of migration around the world.

Silver Lyan worked with Union Market rum producer Cotton & Reed to make a cane spirit distilled with emu necks, local raspberries, and cloves.
Caitlin Isola

“You might see shrimps or you might see antler. It’s part of the story and it’s part of the flavor,” says its London-based owner Ryan Chetiyarwardana, a world-famous molecular mixologist better known as “Mr. Lyan.”

Located in the depths of the Riggs hotel (900 F Street NW), the Penn Quarter cocktail haven has big menu shoes to fill after being named the best hotel bar in the U.S. at Tales of the Cocktail last summer. The 11 new cocktails are the product of nine months of discovery and experimentation, marking the bar’s third big revamp since opening in early 2020.

The savory Emu Queen highball, influenced by a famous clash between the Australian military and 20,000 emus, employs an emu pechuga — a white rum distilled with flavorful emu neck meat sourced from a Tennessee farm. The cocktail is rounded out with riberry, arrowroot, and mulberry soda.

Remember the HitchBOT (Crown Royal XO, genever, dandelion capillaire, blackberry, rusted bitters).
Caitlin Isola
A honey-coated mealworm balances atop the Air Bee n Bee (Patrón blanco, hay-smoked bee larvae, almond blossom, mango vinegar, Mosel riesling).
Caitlin Isola

“It’s a huge amount of human effort. We have everybody involved on the team,” he says. “It’s a very democratic process.”

Debut drinks ($17-$23), many of which can be made without booze, are arranged into three sections: one way tickets; round trips; and nomads.

The Kiwa cocktail references the climate change-induced nomadic lifestyle of flamingos and deep-sea Kiwa crabs (Altos tequila, shrimps, gunpowder tea, morita chile, tropical aperitif, lime).
Caitlin Isola

Inspiration came from all nooks and crannies of world history. The Nimbus Spritz explores early humans’ sensitivity to the compound geosmin, a component in the smell of petrichor (imagine a whiff of fresh rain falling on dry soil), and its effect on our agricultural society. The futuristic Remember the HitchBOT recounts the Black Mirror-like tale of a hitchhiking Canadian robot that traveled across three countries before meeting its “decapitated” end on the streets of Philadelphia.

“We don’t touch flavors to begin with. All of the initial research is around finding stories,” says Chetiyarwardana. “Finding things that feel funny or interesting.”

Nimbus Spritz (Bacardí Carta Blanca, carrot mead, mushroom caramel, spruce, White Lyan water, clay “champagne”).
Caitlin Isola
The tincture in the Perkin’s Purple Punch is made from deer antlers dissolved in phosphoric acid, diluted and combined with aquavit and an applewood-smoked milk.
Caitlin Isola

Deciphering the menu can seem daunting at first, though helpful tasting notes above each entry give a concise profile of the final product. The Nimbus Spritz, for example, is “clean, mineral and bubbly bright,” while the HitchBOT is tagged as “delicate, uplifting and Manhattan-y.”

Because Silver Lyan’s staff was deeply involved in the creative process, they’re well equipped to tell guests the ins-and-outs of what goes into each drink. And if nothing hits the mark, a custom order or pick off the bar’s menu of classics is always welcome. Hours are Tuesday through Sunday from 5 a.m. to 12 a.m. (closed Monday).

“Bars are wonderful places to learn different things about how your tastes are and how your palate might work,” Chetiyarwardana says.

Through all of the esoteric storytelling and advanced mixology, he doesn’t lose sight of the main goal: cocktails have to make sense and, most importantly, taste great.

“We need to find a way of layering up and compositing those flavors in a way that feels meaningful and comes together in a way that feels exciting,” he says.

King Pausa (Belvedere, green coffee, green malt, woodruff sherry, red olive, “not” lemon).
Caitlin Isola
The zippy and aromatic Superman 2 (Hendrick’s gin, oak wine, oolong, flinted strawberry, green pea).
Caitlin Isola

Bar food also comes with extra thought; try Chex Mix with seaweed and smoked tea, cheffed-up bagel bites, and a kimchi-topped wagyu beef hot dog. Tater tots are shaped like a coin as a clever homage to Silver Lyan’s placement in a former bank vault—and also provides an even crunchy-to-cushy ratio in each bite. A “Tots ‘n Shots” combo features a next-level lemon drop made by extracting the essence of lemon peels (no added sugar needed).

—Tierney Plumb contributed to this report

Silver Lyan

900 F Street Northwest, , DC 20004 (202) 788-2799 Visit Website