Behind the Bar Snap Shot

These 3 Drinks Show Why Seed Library Marks a Fun New Direction for the Lyan Bars

Its relatively simple cocktails still come with the trademark Lyan whimsy and hospitality.

The bar at Seed Library in London
The bar at Seed Library in London Image:

Caitlin Isola

No one knows a bar better than the people behind it. For “My Bar in 3 Drinks,” the people running the best bars around make and discuss three of their bar’s most representative cocktails.

If you’re familiar with any of the award-winning Lyan bars, past or present—whether it be the now-shuttered White Lyan or Dandelyan, or thriving contemporary spots such as Lyaness and Silver Lyan—then you know “lo-fi” and “analogue” are two adjectives that wouldn’t usually come to mind when describing these bars. They are, and have been, boundary-pushing, science-driven, cerebral, and innovative in every aspect of the drink development process.

However, at Seed Library, the latest bar to join the Lyan family and marking the group’s return to hip-and-happening East London, “lo-fi” and “analogue” are the words that have been used to characterize Mr. Lyan’s latest venture. Admittedly, the adjectives raised a few eyebrows among many bar-industry professionals, but by Lyan bar standards, they’re accurate. 

The interior of Seed Library
The interior of Seed Library.

Caitlin Isola

“Seed Library is a return to an area that's been home to us from the start,” says Ryan Chetiyawardana, the owner of the Lyan group of bars, as he reflects on the part of London where White Lyan, a pioneering bar of the zero-waste movement, was located from 2013 until 2017. “But even though it’s a sort of coming home, a lot has changed in the area, and this notion is echoed in our evolution as a group as well.

“At Seed, guests can definitely expect an East London bar, and they can expect all the things that Lyan venues stand for: a super-relaxed atmosphere with a warm, genuine vibe from the team, great music, beautiful design, and a consideration into all the details we can control,” Chetiyawardana continues. “But it's also not a 'cocktail bar.’ We've created a venue that feels reflective of our journey—through different spaces, concepts, countries, and conversations.”

Ryan Chetiyawardana
Ryan Chetiyawardana.

When Chetiyawardana says that Seed Library isn’t a cocktail bar, what he means is that the bar isn't merely about the drinks and the techniques used to craft them; it’s about the people and relationships, ambiance, and hospitality. “Seed reflects a very universal need for things that feel real—things where you can sense provenance, human touch, impermanence, and lightness—without any of those themes being overt,” says Chetiyawardana. “It's a really welcoming space, and the bar uses these analogue themes in all the touchpoints of music, service and drinks, etc., to help you escape the chaos that so many of us face in modern life at the moment. The other bars within the Lyan group are certainly democratic, and about more than just cocktails, but they have more focused cocktail philosophies, whereas Seed Library is much softer and much wider.”

The basement bar’s cozy interior features wood-paneled walls—one of which boasts a stylish library of vinyl records ready to be spun on the record player—and furniture upholstered in earthy tones. It very much feels like the grounding sanctuary Chetiyawardana and team meant for it to be. And when the cocktails are flowing, the DJ is spinning, and servers are the Lyan group’s signature bubbly hospitality, the bar feels truly vibrant.

An interior detail at Seed Library
An interior detail at Seed Library.

Caitlin Isola

As for the constantly rotating list of classic-inspired cocktails, “analogue” doesn’t imply “unsophisticated.” While the drinks may be simpler than the ones found at other Lyan bars, careful consideration has gone into each. “Sometimes we take classic-cocktail families and see how they would be if they came from a different origin point—for example, why do aperitivo-style drinks and their designation of flavor have to be based around roots or citrus profiles?” says Chetiyawardana. “Other times we draw inspiration from a flavor or by chatting with a supplier who is very in-tune with the land and their produce. We want to be able to challenge ourselves with a different variety of ingredients.”

These are the three drinks that Chetiyawardana feels best represent Seed Library.

Galangal Penicillin

Caitlin Isola

1. Galangal Penicillin

Patron tequila, mezcal, galangal honey, lemon

For the signature sour on Seed Library’s menu, Chetiyawardana and his team deconstructed the modern-classic Penicillin, a mixture of Scotch whiskies, lemon juice, ginger, and honey, to hone in on the drink’s citrusy and spicy high notes—except in this case, agave spirits and galangal steal the show. “Sammy’s classic Penicillin layers lots of golden notes together for a rich, autumnal drink,” says Chetiyawardana, referring to the classic’s creator. “We've looked at the spice that ginger brings, but focused on the citrusy brightness, which marries beautifully with the spicy-perfumed galangal.”  

That galangal now serves as the focus of the drink. “We've rebalanced the classic Penicillin template around this focal point, adding in the citrus brightness required, but lifting the vegetable spice using tequila in lieu of scotch and using the zestier smoke from mezcal over the standard peated float,” says Chetiyawardana. The Seed Library spin, he says, “is more toward a summer version of the drink: bright, spicy, and with a sunshine kick.”

Sansho Leaf Martini

Caitlin Isola

2. Sansho Leaf Martini

Very cold Belvedere Heritage vodka, Cocchi dry vermouth, green sansho oil

The Vodka Martini has experienced a serious resurgence over the past year, but it’s always been a staple of Lyan bar offerings, particularly at Lyaness. At Seed Library, the bar strips down the cocktail to its bare bones for a nuanced and textural take on the classic. “We really wanted to have a flavorful Vodka Martini on the menu, and this cocktail was the result,” says Chetiyawardana. “For the Sansho Leaf Martini, we've focused on the weight and body of a lush, freezing-cold vodka, exploring the simple and delicate balance that we love about the drink.” 

Despite its apparent simplicity, this is no ordinary Vodka Martini. “Instead of using an olive or a twist to act as the final flourish that ties the drink together—and reminiscing on versions we've had that have added too heavy a dose of citrus oils—we've used the citrus, vegetal, and green-toned perfume of sansho leaves to act as a counterpoint to the richness of the vodka,” says Chetiyawardana. “By working on temperature and technique, we fold this through the drink so it's not just in the first sip, too.”  

Coriander Seed Gimlet

Caitlin Isola

3. Coriander Seed Gimlet

Beefeater London dry gin, coriander seed cordial

This lo-fi take on the cordial-dominant Gimlet is the archetypal example of what Seed Library is all about. It’s stripped back and fresh, and it draws inspiration from the zesty character that coriander typically lends to a London dry gin.

“The Coriander Seed Gimlet is a clean, light, and bright drink that uses the pinpoint balance of Beefeater gin, and simply complements it with a coriander seed cordial,” says Chetiyawardana. “When doing R&D for this drink, we tested a variety of coriander seeds sourced from different places—some yielded a rich and nutty flavor; some were extra deep—but we focused on one that gave us a very citrusy and zesty profile.”

The resulting cocktail is elegant and spirit-forward enough to tempt a Martini drinker while still maintaining the Gimlet’s signature freshness. “Simply stirred together, the drink gives all the lemon/lime citrus brightness of the classic, with a very different flavor source,” says Chetiyawardana. For guests who are abstaining from alcohol, the bar also offers a nonalcoholic version that’s equally exciting and complex. It may comprise just two ingredients, but the result is undoubtedly greater than the sum of its parts.