Ryan ‘Mr Lyan’ Chetiyawardana’s favourite bars around the world

When I visit a bar, I (of course) love an excellent cocktail — and meeting bartenders and mixologists who are super geeky about their latest brew. But if, as a guest, you don’t feel like you’ve stumbled into a bit of magic, and aren’t made to feel looked after, then you’re just enjoying a great drink — not a great bar. Having been fortunate enough to travel and witness first-hand the plethora of different bars, clubs and restaurants around the world — and having worked in, owned and run a wide range of venues for some 20 years — I’ve become quite particular about how I define a fantastic bar. 

Below are some of my favourite places around the globe that aren’t solely focused on serving a quality product, but offer the total package, feel inclusive and reflect a passion — and even though they’re off the beaten track, they’re well worth making a special effort to visit.

La Venencia, Madrid

Calle de Echegaray 7, 28014 Madrid
A man looking into La Venencia, a historic bar in Madrid
La Venencia: ‘A contender for my favourite bar in the world’ © Amanda Calvo

This is a contender for my favourite bar in the world: understated, charming and an important piece of Madrid history. It became a popular hang-out for Republican soldiers and their supporters during the Spanish Civil War, and to this day there’s a homeliness, with no photography allowed (though modern clientele are probably less wary of potential spies knocking around). There are barrels of sherry on offer (try the Palo Cortado — a dry style that jumps between savoury, nutty and aromatic), simple yet superb snacks (I usually order the anchovies on bread and some bottarga) and even a resident cat padding around. Over an evening, the atmosphere evolves from rather sedate to raucous when guests spill on to the streets. Madrid is said to have more bars per capita than any other European city, so naturally there are great cocktail spots and vermuterías adjacent, should you wish to hop between a few places. I also like nearby Viva Madrid, but I wouldn’t be in a rush to leave La Venencia. It’s the perfect place to settle in for a few hours. Website; Directions

Caretaker’s Cottage and Section 8, Melbourne

139-141 Little Lonsdale Street and 27-29 Tattersalls Lane, Melbourne, VIC 3000
The bar at Caretaker’s Cottage, with a turntable and a shelf of vinyl beneath shelves lined with bottles of spirits
‘The perfect balance of cocktail bar, home from home and pub’: Caretaker’s Cottage
Caretaker’s Cottage: a small 19th-century dark-brick house surrounded by a lawn and high-rises
Caretaker’s Cottage is housed in a heritage building on a Melbourne side street

There is no shortage of good bars in Melbourne, a city renowned for its craft cocktail culture, but a real favourite is Caretaker’s Cottage, located behind a church on Little Lonsdale Street in a tiny bluestone cottage (a former caretaker’s quarters). It strikes the perfect balance of cocktail bar, home from home and pub, and is owned and operated by some dear friends and ex-Lyan family, who offer the warmth of Aussie hospitality in the most wonderful way. Chat to the team, listen to great music and drink through the short but well-crafted menu. They’re known for having Guinness on tap and milk punch (a milk and brandy or bourbon-based cocktail that originated in the 18th century), and a cleverly curated wine list. Website; Directions

Crowds of people in Section 8: an bar in an old shipping container with corrugated plastic roofing
Section 8 — aka the ‘Container Bar — started as a pop-up in a car park

Just a few blocks away from Caretaker’s Cottage, Section 8 is a cool outdoor bar that first started as a pop-up but did so well it became a permanent fixture. Locals call it the “Container Bar” because it’s in a converted shipping container that’s located in a car park in Chinatown. It’s a fun place to grab a drink while soaking up the Australian sun and taking in a bit of Melbourne’s music scene (it regularly hosts bands). Drinks are fittingly summery and nod to iconic songs: my favourite cocktail is the “Good Kid, M.A.A.D Litty” (a riff on the Kendrick Lamar album) made with tequila, hibiscus and lemongrass syrup, guava nectar and citrus. Website; Directions

Kay’s Bar, Edinburgh

39 Jamaica Street West, Edinburgh EH3 6HF
Kay’s Bar: a detached stone building in Edinburgh’s New Town
Tucked away on a cobbled street in Edinburgh’s New Town, Kay’s Bar . . . 
Rows of large and small barrels of whisky behind a plum-coloured banquette at Kay’s
 . . . ‘instantly loops you into a real sense of community’

This is the bar I wish was part of the Lyan family. An Edinburgh institution that still manages to feel like a local spot, with great Guinness, a lively atmosphere and warmth, and well-priced drams of single malt whisky. It’s a beautiful little stone building tucked away on a cobbled side street in the New Town, and the small space doesn’t take much to get packed out. Stepping through the door almost feels like you’re in a time warp, instantly looping you in to a real sense of community. This is the place to go for real ales, with rotating taps from Scottish craft breweries, and the friendly staff are more than happy to talk you through their selection. Website; Directions

Alquímico, Cartagena

Calle del Colegio #34-24, Centro histórico, Cartagena 130001
A glass of martini sat on a dark wooden bar
Cocktails at Alquímico include the Selva martini © Kathy Bossa
The honey-stone facade of Alquímico, in a renovated colonial-era mansion
Alquímico has been crowned the best bar in South America in recent years

Owned and run by Jean Trinh, a friend, super-talented bartender and one of the nicest figures in the industry, Alquímico, which is based in a renovated colonial mansion, is a wonderful showcase of Colombia, one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. It’s no surprise that this bar has been named the best in all of South America for the past few years. Jean’s commitment to highlighting indigenous knowledge, ingredients and culture is channelled through three floors of dancing, food and cocktails, each with a different personality, offering something for any occasion. The menu is a celebration of Colombia’s brilliant produce with inventive applications. I recommend the taquitos with banana peel, the yucca dumplings and the ahuyama (squash) ceviche, while sipping on a Selva martini (replete with aromatic herb oil) or a Kianga, marrying local fruits, herbs and honey with one of my favourite Scottish single malts. Website; Directions

Ved Stranden 10, Pompette and Warpigs, Copenhagen

Ved Stranden 10, 1061; Møllegade 3, 2200; and Flæsketorvet 25-37, 1711 Copenhagen
Ved Stranden 10: ‘One of the city’s most stylish natural wine bars’

In a city renowned for its phenomenal culinary scene, it is no surprise that Copenhagen also offers many great cocktail bars to explore, though its natural wine and beer scene is what really excites me. From hole-in-the-wall venues to converted warehouse spaces and stylish modern bars, there’s something for every occasion. And although wine bars and a brewpub might seem like things you can find elsewhere, these three places — from the decor to the service to the atmosphere — feel distinctly Danish. 

Ved Stranden 10 is one of the city’s most stylish natural wine bars. Set in a historic tea shop, the charming canal-side venue is not known for its menu but lack thereof, so it’s best to ask the knowledgable staff for a recommendation. Featured wines come from small, independent producers, so you’re likely to enjoy something you’ve never heard of, or learn something new. Website; Directions

A rows of bottles of natural wine at Pompette
Copenhagen’s Pompette focuses on natural wines . . .  © Olivia Rohde
A small glass and wood bar by a bare-stone wall at Pompette
. . . which it offers at reasonable prices © Olivia Rohde

Pompette, a natural wine bar and shop in the chic Nørrebro neighbourhood, has despite its popularity remained strong on its mission to sell top-quality products at reasonable prices. I recommend a glass of one of Tschida’s wines, a producer in Austria’s Burgenland, and a fried chicken sandwich from Poulette, the bar’s takeaway sandwich shop right next door. Website; Directions

Craft beer lovers will be acquainted with Copenhagen’s Mikkekeller, and its Warpigs brewpub is a must-stop for me for a locally brewed something (you can cover all tastes here) before exploring the old Meatpacking District and its restaurants and art spaces. Website; Directions

Galle Face Hotel, Colombo

2 Galle Road, Colombo 3
Excellent cocktails and a ‘glamorous setting’: Galle Face Hotel in Colombo © Terry Mathews/Alamy

As historic spaces go, this one, south Asia’s grand-dame hotel, is particularly fabulous, and despite my ancestral connection, I love it simply as it channels a bygone era. The hotel, which opened in 1864, is one of the oldest east of the Suez. I came here with family just to enjoy the glamorous setting, but ended up settling into cocktails using Rockland produce — a pioneering local family distillery that’s been operating for a century on the island. It’s an incomparable spot to sit back on a waterside terrace, order a daiquiri and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Website; Directions

Luk Yu Tea House, Hong Kong

24-26 Stanley Street, Central, Hong Kong
A teapot, teacup and saucer and a small bowl on a table at Luk Yu Tea House
Luk Yu Tea House is almost 100 years old © Julien Jean/Alamy

I love tea for its complexity, variety and versatility as much as I do whisky, so I love finding venues that are committed to it as much as great bars are to their booze. This lively restaurant dates back nearly a century, and has a magical touch balancing styling, product and service that makes you feel like you’ve wandered into a different era. Order everything (from the very cool, old-style menu cards) — the traditional dim sum are delicious — and lean into the great atmosphere. Website; Directions

Geralds, San Sebastián

Iparragirre 13, 20001 San Sebastián
The dark-wood interior of the San Sebastián outpost of Geralds, a Melbourne bar
The San Sebastián outpost of Geralds, a Melbourne bar
A plate of steak tartare at Geralds
Steak tartare at Geralds

An Australian export to a city replete with great bars, this taverna offers the magic of traditional stylings, local wines, beers and cocktails alongside the requisite tapas — but the energy and service are what makes this particular spot stick out. The local Txakoli wine — fresh, light and zesty with a slight minerality — alongside the richness of cured tuna and ham or a steak tartare is a match made in heaven. But with an impressive list of local wines (many by the glass), along with some other old world gems, the trick here is to go with enough friends to tackle the whole menu. Website; Directions

The Three Diamond Door, New York

211 Knickerbocker Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11237
A corner booth at The Three Diamond Door, with a bright red table, black leather banquette, and dark-wood panelling on the wall, on which hang paintings of a fireman and bullfighting poster
The Three Diamond Door: ‘The joy of a dive bar, with live music, sparkling wine on tap . . .
A bottle of beer with a shot glass beside it on the bar in The Three Diamond Door
. . . and very cold beer’ — accompanied by a shot of bourbon, of course

New York has some of the best drinking spots in the world and, given that cocktails are an American invention, the city has you covered for everything from pitch-perfect classics to seasonal specialities and cutting-edge serves. But this Brooklyn joint brings the joy of a dive bar, with live music, sparkling wine on tap and very cold beer. This is an unpretentious spot in Bushwick, and there other great places about (Empirical’s new distillery is nearby), but first have a boilermaker (beer with a shot of bourbon on the side) — and see where the night takes you. Website; Directions

Native, Singapore

52A Amoy Street, Singapore 069878
Vijay Mudaliar, co-owner of Singapore’s Native bar, sitting on a blue leather banquette
Vijay Mudaliar wanted Native to celebrate the best of Singapore . . .
Native’s long bar, with spherical lamps hanging from a timbered ceiling
. . . to which his bar is a ‘wonderful love letter’

Singapore is a wonderful melting pot of cultures and uniquely positioned at the centre of so many international influences, but before this cocktail bar opened, many bars (and restaurants) — even at the finer end of the spectrum — focused on Western ideals and ingredients. Co-owner Vijay Mudaliar (again, a friend, ex-Lyan family and one of the loveliest folks in the industry) wanted to celebrate his homeland in a more authentic manner, embracing local ingredients, music, materials and accents. What results is a wonderful love letter to Singaporean culture, with flavours and compositions you won’t find anywhere else. Website; Directions

Ryan “Mr Lyan” Chetiyawardana, one of the world’s leading bartenders, runs four venues around the globe: London’s Seed Library and Lyaness (which is launching a new menu in March), Silver Lyan in Washington DC and Super Lyan in Amsterdam

Share your favourite bars around the world in the comments below. And follow FT Globetrotter on Instagram at @FTGlobetrotter

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