Tinctures Made From Dissolved Deer Antlers Aren't a Gimmick at America’s Best Hotel Bar

The innovative subterranean cocktail bar housed in a former bank vault is a hidden gem, even with ingredients like a cane spirit distilled with emu necks.

<p>Courtesy of Silver Lyan</p>

Courtesy of Silver Lyan

Diamonds garner their radiance from the pressure they sustain over time. Similarly, the stress of opening in the midst of a pandemic shaped Silver Lyan, the innovative subterranean cocktail bar housed in a former bank vault in the Riggs Washington DC hotel, into one fine gem of a bar — the best hotel bar in America, according to Food & Wine’s 2024 Global Tastemakers.

But its success isn’t a total surprise to the cocktail faithful who are familiar with the bar’s world-class pedigree. Silver Lyan was opened by internationally acclaimed bartender Ryan Chetiyawardana (also known as Mr. Lyan) and managing director Alex Lawrence, both of whom have swept up award after award for the better half of a decade thanks to their groundbreaking bars.

Juxtaposed with the mixed palette of regal rich oak wood flooring and striking marquetry work on the walls is an illuminated Japanese-style Nori curtain entrance and pops of eclectic color throughout the venue. The cocktails show similar contrasts, in the sense that while they’re all approachable in taste and delivery — the Instagram-famous Jell-O shots are a prime example — the actual ingredients used are unlike anything most American drinkers have experienced before.

The bar’s latest menu features 11 innovative cocktails that explore the intricate migration patterns of humans and nature. The list reads like a selection of potions from a medieval apothecary, but that’s not entirely shocking when the inspiration comes from nomadic flamingos, a deep-space probe, and the superior hygienic proclivities of Vikings.

In the popular Emu Queen, a savory highball inspired by a famous clash between the Australian military and 20,000 emus, mezcal is mixed with cane spirit that’s distilled with emu necks (yes, you read that correctly) and local raspberries, riberry, arrowroot and mulberry soda.

There’s also the delectable Nimbus Spritz, which features “clay” Champagne and mushroom caramel designed to have an aromatic profile driven by petrichor, the chemical compound mainly responsible for the scent of dirt. And if those peculiar items don’t evoke enough intrigue, then maybe tinctures made from hay-smoked bee larvae or dissolved deer antlers (in phosphoric acid, then diluted and combined with aquavit and applewood-smoked milk), “shrimps” or “not lemon” will raise an eyebrow or two.

To the average drinker who finds themself at Silver Lyan, these ingredients could easily be perceived as gimmicky. And, to be fair, they’re bizarre enough to warrant some questions; but that’s far from their intention as any inquisitive guest quickly discovers when the bartender delves deep into the inspiration, history, and culture wrapped up in each glass of liquid. These drinks, and the bar’s third annual menu as a whole, are a result of a burning curiosity for what’s possible versus impossible within the boundaries of a cocktail — and one that’s genuinely enjoyable at that. It’s a hallmark of what every Lyan bar does exceptionally well. Every ingredient that’s developed requires a precise amount of preparation, research, and time.

The beauty of visiting Silver Lyan, though, is you aren’t gorged with information you don’t want to receive. If you want to know about the dissolved deer antlers, the bartenders will happily walk you through, but they’ll also — without huffing or puffing — mix up a simple vodka soda, Negroni, or any other classic cocktail. Because they understand the essence of hospitality, any person who steps into their bar is welcomed regardless of what they’re looking for from the Silver Lyan experience. That’s a sign of a proper diamond of a bar.

Global Tastemakers is a celebration of the best culinary destinations in the U.S. and abroad. We asked more than 180 food and travel journalists to vote on their favorites, including restaurants and bars, cities, hotels, airports, airlines, and cruises. We then entrusted those results to an expert panel of judges to determine each category’s winners. In many categories, we’ve included a judge’s pick, hand-selected by our expert panel, to shout out more culinary destinations we don’t want our readers to miss. See all the winners at foodandwine.com/globaltastemakers.

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