Welcome to the Castle Cocktail Lounge!
Back by popular demand, we will spend all of July looking at historical cocktail recipes. This year our inspiration is the 1940s, thanks to our upcoming Victory Bash: A 1940s USO-inspired Party on July 22 (follow the link for tickets!). Not every drink will have been created in the 1940s, but each has significant historical ties to the decade. So, roll out your bar cart and let’s get mixing!
“The music is sweet . . .the drinks are smooth.” -From a 1947 Saginaw News Advertisement for Gable Gardens
It’s the Bee’s Knees
In his cocktail book, The Artistry of Mixing Drinks, Frank Meier claimed the Bee’s Knees cocktail as his own invention. The book was published in 1936 (if you follow the link, you can flip through a digital copy). It’s not the drink, but the bartender himself that represents our 1940s connection.
Meier learned the art of bartending at the Hoffman House Hotel in New York, starting his career in 1902. By 1908, he had his own bar, the Brunswick House, in Paris. His bartending was interrupted by World War I.
After his military service, in 1921, the Ritz Hotel in Paris appointed Meier its first Head-Bartender. He ran two bars in the hotel, including the American Bar. Rather than spend most of his time behind the bar, at this point in his career, Meier spent much of his time in the front of the house, acting as the consummate host. He also had a profit-sharing arrangement with the Ritz’s proprietors.
Then came the outbreak of World War II in 1939 when Germany, under the direction of Adolf Hitler, invaded Poland. The following spring, German armies would overwhelm the low countries and sweep through France in a six-week campaign, occupying Paris by June 14, 1940. The Ritz was called neutral territory, but in reality, it was the domain of Luftwaffe Commander-in-Chief Hermann Göring, who used an entire floor for his quarters.
Throughout the German occupation and ongoing Nazi activities at the hotel, Frank Meier continued to serve as head bartender at the Ritz. He, along with many other hotel employees, aided the French Resistance. Documentation shows that Meier worked with French and British spies. He also helped Jews obtain forged documents so that they could flee France.
According to historian Tilar Mazzeo, he also passed notes for Hans Speidel and Carl von Stülpnagel who ultimately failed in their attempt to assassinate Hitler and Göring. Although Meier was under surveillance, the plotters were able to meet at the bar and pass notes through Meier under the guise of placing bets because Meier was also running a gambling operation out of the hotel. It all made the perfect cover.
There was no love lost between Meier and the German-sympathizer proprietors, and during the war Meier began an embezzlement scheme, depositing money into his British bank account. The hotel found out, and that was the end of his tenure at the Ritz. He vanished, and his historical trail goes cold. There are claims that he went to the South of France. And he is believed to have died in 1947; there is a grave in Paris. But we will probably never know what really became of the Spy-Bartender and inventor of the Bee’s Knees.
Let's Drink! - Bee's Knees
A Special thank you to the staff of Prost! in Frankenmuth and bartender Brennan Webb for serving as our mixologist in the Castle Cocktail Lounge
Official International Bartenders’ Association recipe:
INGREDIENTS 60ml (2 oz) Gin (London Dry) 20ml (¾ oz) Orange Juice (fresh) 20ml (¾ oz) Lemon Juice (fresh) 10ml (½ oz) Honey (or Honey Syrup) (two bar-spoons)
METHOD – Add London Dry Gin (I have opted for Tanqueray for this mix), fresh lemon juice and fresh orange juice, and honey or honey syrup into a cocktail shaker with a handful of ice. Shake until very cold and the honey has mixed (15-30 seconds) and then double strain into a chilled coupe, cocktail or martini glass.
Option to garnish with lemon and/or orange peel.
Directions For Finding A Place To Spend An Hour Or An Entire Evening Over the next month while the Castle Test Kitchen staff is focused on the history - and preparation - of mixed drinks, part of the team is a little too lazy to shake and stir drinks at home and decided to instead spend the month searching for the perfect place to spend a Saturday night in Saginaw County – pretending it was sometime around July 3, 1943.
At first, we were stymied; then we discovered a guide: “What to do and Where to Go: With directions For Finding A Place To Spend An Hour Or An Entire Evening,” an advertising page that appeared in the Saginaw News from roughly 1938 until 1948.
Although this guide is helpful, finding the perfect spot is not without challenges – especially if you want to find a place to dine, have a cocktail and dance, it requires some careful research and reading between the lines of the advertisements. Although by July 1943, prohibition was long -past, many restaurants, bars and nightclubs were shaped by ordinances adopted at the end of prohibition and then quickly altered and further changed and adapted.
Initially after prohibition, Saginaw prohibited the sale of liquor by glass. However, on May 14, 1934, The Saginaw Daily News reported:
“City and police officials here were amazed on learning of the issue of a hard liquor license to the Freeland hotel [Rodeitcher’s], recalling the pledge made by Chairman Picard to the city councils of Saginaw, Flint and Bay City last January – at the time they agreed to stand against hard liquor by the glass in all three cities. The pledge was that no liquor-by-the-glass permits would be issued in the rural districts of any of these three counties as long as the three key cities chose to bar glass sales within their borders.”
However, a challenge in the southern part
of Michigan forced the State Liquor Control Commission to retract its pledge. And opened the way for more options for our Saturday night in Saginaw County.
We have no idea where we will end up next week; however, with gas rationing in effect, a place within walking distance is very appealing. (don’t read the advertising included in this article too carefully, it could ruin the surprise. )
Lockdown Cocktails, “060 Bee’s Knees,” https://lock-tails.com/2021/10/12/060-bees-knees/
Tilar J. Mazzeo, The Hotel on Place Vendrome.