From God Save The Queen and Coca-Cola to Ten Crack Commandments and Koji Hardshakes, Will Meredith Head Bartender at Lyaness in London, tells us about the discs and drinks that have shaped his life and career.
Over to you Will…
The early years…
For those of us who didn’t know you before you became Head Bartender at Lyaness, tell us about young(er) Will.
I grew up in Africa, moving about a lot. I spent time in Nigeria, Uganda and Cameroon, amongst several others – it was a phenomenal time as Africa is such a wonderful and different continent. Those were, without doubt the best years of my life. I spent most of my time immersed in a host of activities, including camping, sports, music, culture and so much more.
I went to boarding school when I was 12 and spent my teenage years there. It was certainly different, and I was always a shy kid. School days were tricky to negotiate but I made it out mostly unscathed! I was an enthusiastic, but slightly chaotic student and had a good rapport with teachers. Luckily, I was good at sports which always helps with fitting in.
After my school years I took some time out to travel to Australia, Thailand, and Laos before studying Philosophy in Manchester where I earnt a 2:1 Degree. I wasn’t the best attendee though. On the day of my final exam I received a final warning letter citing my lack of attendance!
Is there one definitive song that takes you back to your early years?
As a young kid, I distinctly remember my parents constantly bickering over what to listen to, with my Dad always keen for 60s & 70s rock, and my Mum preferring disco, funk, and soul. For me though, I would say the music I equate with my childhood would be something like God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols.
As a teenager I developed an obsession with Jack Johnson, thinking I could play his music and do it justice. However, my friend Katya and I entered a talent contest with the song Shark in the Water by V V Brown, where she sang, and I played. So that definitely resonates with me too.
Now tell us a drink that takes you back to this time.
If I’m talking childhood days, then it would simply have to be Coca-Cola. I distinctly remember going to the market where we would buy glass bottles by the crate and would return the crates full of empty bottles to be recycled or refilled. I have such a nostalgic view of this time and will always defend the opinion that Coca-Cola tastes better in glass bottles. I also remember my mum letting me eat the foam off her cappuccino – I only liked the foam because it was covered in chocolate powder! Once we hit the coffee I wasn’t interested.
First bar job…
Now let’s move on to Will – The Bar Years. How and why did you get into the drinks industry?
My first job in a bar was at Revolution Deansgate Locks, Manchester. I needed a way to make some cash at university as my student loan wasn’t enough to cover my rent.
The bar was a high capacity venue where we spent most of the time making spirit and mixers and disco cocktails. On the weekend it turned in to a club – we had two DJs and a basement where people would really let loose. I loved it because it was the first job I had where colleagues were also friends. We spent so much time working together and in our time off, we hung out together. It was also a good rush to work in a high-volume venue, sweating profusely for a few hours.
Gotcha! Is there a particular song that takes you back to this sweaty, high-volume time in your life?
There are a bunch of songs from this time that I remember because they came on frequently in DJ sets or on the music system. However, it was in this phase where I began to really discover the wonders of hip-hop and have never looked back –it’s now my preferred genre. With that in mind, I would say the song would be Money Trees by Kendrick Lamar.
Track sorted, what about a drink to go with it?
It would have to be the Caipirinha. I was new to cocktails and initially spent my time drinking the same disco drinks that were being sold in the bar. However, after some time, I decided to push the boat out and the Caipirinha was the first ‘classic’ cocktail that became my staple. I don’t drink it much anymore, but I distinctly remember it being my drink of choice when I was out. To help, there was a student cocktail bar near where I lived that sold them for £5.
Moving on, what would you cite as a key moment in your career?
When I first moved to Dandelyan, it was a really tough transition. Moving from cities outside the capital is very tricky as London has so many logistical headaches in addition to being so much faster and intense. Moving from a team of six to one of 20 added an extra layer to the whole experience. Luckily, I had the legends that were Aidan Bowie, Mikey Ball, and Iain Griffiths who helped me settle in and feel part of the team, as well as pushing me to deliver the Dandelyan standard. This helped massively as a distraction – sometimes getting your head down and grafting is the best way to integrate with others.
The breakthrough moment for me was being promoted to the role of Head Bartender. It was just a few months before we closed Dandelyan and opened Lyaness which was an unbelievably exciting time. In the 20 months since, I’ve learned more about this industry than in the previous six years and still have so much more to improve. Therefore this stands out as a huge step in personal growth and development.
Is there a song that you equate with this period?
It would have to be the song that we played at the end of the Dandelyan closing party. It was such a magical moment as everyone went to the back of the venue and danced on the furniture. It’s a song that the Lyan company has taken as our unofficial anthem, a song that has featured at the end of most celebrations and it was the perfect way to book-end the whole Dandelyan journey. That song is Shake, Shake, Shake Senora by Harry Belefonte.
And the drink to go with this momentous occasion?
It HAS to be the Koji Hardshake, for the exact same reasons as above. The Koji Hardshake is a drink that was on the Dandelyan menu from day one and was the only cocktail to remain on the list. It was essentially a whisky sour with cream and miso and was unbelievably delicious. It summed up everything about the venue. At the end of the closing party we made 150 of them and as a final goodbye, the whole team shook and served them, so the Koji Hardshake were the last drinks ever to be made in Dandelyan.
Moving on, where are in your career now and how would you describe your journey as a bartender?
I’m still Head Bartender at Lyaness, but truthfully, I don’t consider myself to be any more mature or sensible than I was six years ago! One thing that has changed though is my attitude towards hospitality and drinks…
If we’re being honest, almost all bartenders go through a phase where they begin to learn the potential of this industry but don’t really know how to translate that information into a package that works for the wider world. Since being with the Lyan family, there’s always been a real emphasis on making the outrageous digestible. My absolute priority now is to do whatever it takes to make people feel totally relaxed and have a laugh while they’re in Lyaness. Drinks making also needs to reflect that. People love interesting drinks, but they don’t want them to be confusing or intimidating, neither do they want to wait ages for them, so on that side of things, drinks need to be fun, yet sophisticated and refined but easy to make so they can be delivered as efficiently as possible.
It’s been an interesting time recently, with Covid-19 and the majority, if not all of the hospitality industry temporarily shutting. There have been many supportive initiatives put in place and it has been great to see. One which myself and some of the team at Lyaness took part in was Oxley Gin’s Team Labs Series. We were sent a bottle of Oxley and frozen fresh produce and challenged to experiment and brainstorm together to create serves using these and only the tools and ingredients we could find at home – inspired by the frozen fresh ingredients found in the gin and its sub-zero distillation process. It was a great way of being reunited with my team, albeit virtually! We received a virtual tip jar and produced some great content to inspire fellow bartenders during lockdown. It’s made me realise the importance of teamwork when it comes to cocktail creativity and inspiring each other, everyone has something different to bring to the table and that’s what makes a great bar team and a great drink.
Is there one song that sums up this period for you?
I would definitely go back to hip-hop for this one. One feature of Dandelyan and indeed Lyaness is our Sunday Lyan sessions, where we play 80s & 90s hip-hop. These nights were the perfect representation of the above point. People would walk into a sexy hotel bar, be greeted by a host, walk into a large, plush interior. Before long they’d realise the hip-hop playing in the venue, with some outrageous tracks thrown in. This instantly breaks down so many barriers and makes guests feel extremely comfortable. Some of my best experiences with guests have been on Sundays, with so many new aquaintances, friends, and regulars found over the years. The song, therefore, would be Ten Crack Commandments by Notorious B.I.G.
And what about a particular drink?
This would probably be a classic highball or a beer. Sunday drinking is all about hanging out, relaxing, and having a good catch up. Therefore, something refreshing and clean like one of these would fit the bill perfectly. As the evening progresses though, a Martini would be the perfect nightcap.
If you could only have one spirit on your desert island what would it be and why?
It would probably be American Whiskey, specifically Eagle Rare 10. I love everything that comes out of the Buffalo Trace distillery. I’m sure people would be pulling their hair out at me not picking something rarer and more exclusive, but I genuinely believe this is the best American Whiskey you can get your hands on.
If you could only have one cocktail on your desert island what would it be and why?
This would be a scotch and soda – unbelievably refreshing, hydrating (which you’d need!) and delicious. Whether the desert island scenario was auspicious or not, you could sit in the evening and watch the sun set thinking “this really isn’t so bad, is it”. Plus, the nature of the drink makes it complex enough that it would never get boring.
What would be the one song that you would pick to accompany you on your desert island?
My song would be Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. The change in pace, tempo, and intensity of it still sends shivers down my spine and it’s just a phenomenal song. I could easily listen to that on repeat for the rest of my life.
What luxury item would you take with you on your desert island?
I’d probably forego the luxury item to be honest, although if pressed for an answer, it would be a quadbike or dirt bike (with plenty of spare fuel) – it would be a great way to get around!
Are there any other songs that were close contenders but you couldn’t fit in?
Absolutely! There are a bunch:
A Certain Romance – Arctic Monkeys
Holy Roller Novacaine – Kings of Leon
A Friend – KRS-One
Colt 45 – Afroman
Purple Haze – Jimi Hendrix
Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe – Kendrick Lamar
Mathematics – Mos Def
Tape Jean Girl – Kings of Leon
Banana Pancakes – Jack Johnson
Vossi Bop – Stormzy
Come Down – Anderson.Paak
Brown Skin Woman – KRS-One
Check Will’s Desert Island Spotify playlist here:
Lyaness is temporarily closed. Please check the website for reopening updates lyaness.com