Walter Meyenberg, and Maura and Alex Lawrence Milia

Maura and Alex Lawrence Milia form super group with Hanky Panky’s Walter Meyenberg in Mexico

23 January, 2024

Maura and Alex Lawrence Milia and Walter Meyenburg have announced the formation of a Mexico City-based bar group, MWA. 

The announcement arrives a week after news that Maura Lawrence Milia would be departing The Connaught in March, after a decade at the two-time world’s best bar. MWA represents the first permanent professional collaboration between Maura and husband and managing director of Mr Lyan group, Alex Lawrence Milia. Meyenburg, meanwhile, is the owner of Hanky Panky in Mexico City – number 22 in The World’s 50 Best Bars. 

Drinks International caught up with the trio to talk about the formation of one of the bar world’s highest-profile collaborations. 

“This month, it’s 10 years of me being at The Connaught, and to be honest, I could have stayed there for the rest of my life, I love the place,” explains Maura. “The decision I had was to either continue growing within the company or do something with Alex. It was one or the other, I never would’ve left the company to do anything else. 

“Our conversations with Walter started a year ago. At first, it was kind of a joke, I wasn’t ready then and [Alex and I] weren’t in the right mindset but we all kept talking and Walter kept coming up with more ideas, he’s like a hurricane. In the end, it was a very natural process, it was like a calling. Alex and I had a conversation and I realised that I’m at a time in my life and career where I’m ready for a big move.” 

That big move turns out to be one to Mexico City, a place close to the hearts of Alex and Maura and a city with a thriving hospitality scene thanks in no small part to the creativity of hospitality entrepreneur Walter Meyenberg, founder of a glut of influential bars and restaurants including Hanky Panky and Brujas. 

“It started with a coffee and a chat about how they were feeling,” says Meyenberg. We chatted about the struggles of London - the weather, the prices, the amount of time spent on public transport, and it was a blue-skied, sunny day in Mexico City and I asked them why don’t you move here and we’ll do something together. 

“We were joking around at first, but they love Mexico City, and then we went to Oaxaca and they fell in love again, and when we returned to the city we said we’d leave the conversation open about doing something together. 

“The more I can create the happier I’ll be, so I kept pushing this idea and now we own a company in Mexico - it’s like a dream come true. For our up-and-coming city to get these two with their crazy mentalities and ways of working, it’s a blessing. I love these guys, they’re like my family but they’re also super successful and at the peak of their careers. It’s a beautiful joint venture.  

Last year, Alex was named managing director and co-owner of Mr Lyan group, a position which will allow him the flexibility to devote much of his time to MWA. 

“It's gonna be difficult, but I'm no stranger to wearing a couple of hats,” he says. “I’ve already been doing Lyan alongside Porter’s and Whitebox, and now I’ll really be there for key creative events - menu development, marketing strategy, and to be honest just spending a lot of time with Ryan [Chetiyawardana] making sure we’re happy with the direction of everything. 

“We’ve just had 10 years of Lyan, and Ryan and I have always found holistic ways of working, nothing we do makes sense, but we’ll figure it out and the growth of that business is still going to be a priority for me - I'm an owner as well. But a lot of my time is going to be focused here, in terms of physical hours, 90% will be dedicated to MWA and the rest will be about clear communication, adding value where I can, and honestly, getting out of the way because we have so many talented people. 

“The one thing that I'm committing a decent wedge of time to is making sure that the leadership teams have alternative mentorship that’s not based on operational proficiency. That’s something we’ve always been very proud of and probably the one thing I feel nervous about, but it can be done over the phone – I’ve done it over the phone for years already. They probably won't even notice I'm gone.” 

While the bar world will no doubt rhapsodise over the news of the professional debut of one of its favourite couples, Maura and Alex have been resolute in claims that their personal relationship has little bearing on their professional one. 

“Maura’s not my wife when I’m at work, I think she’s the best in the world at what she does,” says Alex. “She’s the person I want to work with in conjunction with whatever vision we come up with so it’s a total benefit that we live in a beautiful place, we’re married and we have this beautiful life together but it didn’t cross my mind when we were forming the professional side of this move - if it did, I don’t know if we’d be doing it for the right reasons.” 

While London will mourn the loss of two of its most influential talents and many will point to the move as symptomatic of increasingly pressurised conditions for its bar operators, the UK’s loss is global bartending’s gain. 

“Mexico ticks all the boxes,” says Maura. “We could’ve stayed in London for the rest of our lives, but Mexico is a beautiful country and it’s growing so fast, Mexico City is on fire right now.” 

“The opportunities here are limitless, if you can dream you can actually do it here,” continues Alex. 

“From an affordability standpoint. The fact it’s got probably the best produce on the planet, the biodiversity here is insane, there’s so much to learn from the culture and the people and they’re so friendly and warm. If you have a dream, the answer here is rarely no, whereas in the UK it can feel like the odds are against you the way the market is, the way property is, the way the government systems are, it’s incredibly difficult to be successful unless you’re attached to a fairly large corporation.  

“And we can explore and grow as people here. I’m 33 in a few months and I need to grow as a human being as well as a professional, this is the kind of country where I think I can become the better version of myself.” 

MWA are yet to reveal the specifics of any upcoming projects, but given the acumen involved and Meyenberg’s track record in his home city, the bar world will be paying close attention. 

“Walter is a visionary; he sees beyond the walls that I can see,” says Alex. “It’s like winning the lottery. I have a bureaucratic, cynical London mentality where I think of things as impossibilities, he doesn’t have that and everything he says seems to come true so I’m looking forward to where the journey goes. He’s going to work us to death but that’s ok. 

“What Walter has built here is an institution, The Connaught is an institution, Lyan is an institution, and they all come with prerequisites because of the journey they’re on, so for us all to be able to start afresh with nothing predetermined, it’s been wild.” 

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