|Bee's Knees - Gin & Lavender Cocktail original by Frank Meier|
Photo Leticia Alaniz © 2017
With all this lemon and lavender you’d think it’s high tea time hour. But for this drink that dates back to the hard times of the prohibition era, you’ll need a coupe glass, gin, lavender, honey and lots of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
The Bee’s Knees takes us to Paris’ enigmatic Bar Hemingway located in the lobby of the Hotel Ritz where a mysterious bartender named Frank Meier, who served as a spy during the French Resistance when the Germans occupied Paris in the second World War, authored the classic aptly named cocktail.
Meier trained at the legendary bar in New York’s Hoffman House Hotel and was in the eye of the hurricane during the prohibition of alcohol. Lots of underground gin was being served, yet it was of inferior quality. To mask the strong odor of the less than ideal gin, Meier added citrus and honey resulting in a cocktail that became “suave” or “the best”, thus the slang for the Bee’s Knees name among the jazz clubs. With his bartending training underway, he returned to Paris to become the Hotel Ritz’ first head bartender in 1921 when it’s Cafe Parisian opened its doors.
Meier’s talent for creating delicious cocktails combined with his sense of hospitality to the glitzy and the Lost Generation of intellectuals made him famous. It was the Golden Age at the Ritz and some of Meier’s clientele included the King of Spain, the Prince of Wales, the Russian Grand Dukes and one of his best friends, American author Ernest Hemingway.
Meier was Austrian born and part Jewish, yet he continued to run his bar even when the Germans occupied Paris. It was a risk he was willing to take. He survived the war, avoided deportation and actively engaged in the resistance by assisting many Jewish residents to obtain fake documents and passports that allowed them to hide from the Gestapo’s concentration-camp round-ups.
|Frank Meier cocktail mixologist at the Hotel Ritz, Paris|
Because Meier helped the French resistance and British spies, he was constantly under Gestapo surveillance. He also passed notes for Hans Speidel and Carl Stülpnagel to assist them in planning the assassination attempt of Adolph Hitler which failled. He was essentially running a mailbox with other Ritz staff members passing coded troop movements to the French Resistance via Switzerland.
There’s no telling how many people benefited in avoiding death at the hands of the Nazis from the help of Frank Meier, but what is known is that a couple of years after the war in 1947, the mysterious anti-Nazi spy disappeared into the night but not before leaving his treasured recipes in a small book, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks. Its publication was circulating since 1939 but included only 1300 copies and they’re sought after at auction to the highest bidder.
One of the popular recipes in the book is the Knee’s Bees cocktail. In Meier’s recipe it doesn’t include lavender, but for this version, in honor of France and its lavender fields the cocktail includes an infusion of lavender syrup which you'll surely enjoy.
Here’s a toast to the many lives saved by Frank Meier and to Meier himself, raise your glass with a Bee’s Knees.
Bee’s Knees with Lavender
Granulated sugar *
2 ounces (60 mL) Gin
3/4 ounce Lavender syrup
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
Fresh lavender (for garnish)
Rim a chilled coupe with sugar and set aside. Combine the gin, lavender syrup, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well. Strain into the sugar-rimmed coupe and serve garnished with fresh lavender. Makes one cocktail.
*Dried lavender can be added to the granulated sugar for garnish.
1 Cup of water
1 Tablespoon of dried lavender flowers
1/2 Cup of granulated sugar
1/2 Cup of honey
In a saucepan, bring the water and lavender flowers to a boil. Add the sugar and honey and bring to a second boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Strain, discarding the lavender flowers, and store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Written by Leticia Alaniz © 2017