EAST Eats: King Bee Lounge
Classic pizza meets frozen cocktails
By Amira Jensen,
4:30PM, Fri. Nov. 14, 2014
Billy Hankey is glad to be back on the Eastside. The mixologist helmed the Good Knight bar on East Sixth from 2008 to 2011. From there, he picked up pace as bar manager at Second Bar + Kitchen and Bar Congress downtown. Some of his former patrons followed him, waxing nostalgic over his knighted days.
“The more they said they were missing the Good Knight, the more I realized I was missing the Good Knight,” Hankey said.
And while that bar remains a fond, if foggy, memory, Hankey's latest venture pays homage to an even earlier time. King Bee Lounge opened on August 1 in what housed the Legendary White Swan since the Sixties. Naming his new venture after the song by James Moore, Hankey holds on to the space’s bluesy past and serves classic drinks with a twist.
His girlfriend, Colette Dein, joins him on his return. Opening a place of their own was one of many ideas they talked about on their first date. Dein is no stranger to the local restaurant scene. She worked at Austin Land and Cattle Company for 12 years before managing at Congress the past three years.
“All of our past employers and experiences at these places have really helped us to find a clear path in the way we would like to run this beverage program, and we are grateful for the guidance they have provided,” Hankey said. “Each establishment has helped to grow and refine our skills in order to gain the confidence to be able to open our own place.”
King Bee is where dive meets divine. Dark inside no matter what time of day it is, you might not first notice that your drink is beautifully garnished with flowers. Those who have imbibed Hankey’s Bee’s Knees before will be pleasantly surprised at his new take, served from a margarita machine. Hankey has perfected the classic drink of gin, lemon and honey in frozen form. Those who want it “stung” can request an Ancho Reyes chili liquor floater. A second frozen cocktail choice rotates monthly.
Creating frozen counterparts to these classic cocktails is a matter of trial and error, Hankey said. The machines dip down to 15 degrees, challenging him to find the right ratio of liquor to juice. Although Texas winters won’t deter him from serving his frozen drinks, he will also offer hot drinks in the colder months. Guests can also enjoy gin and a rotating jam, a bevy of bottled beers and Austin-brewed taps, and a selection of affordable wines. Hankey said it was important to him that there’s something for everyone to come enjoy and hang out.
“We want to help reinforce community,” Hankey said.
Food offerings include house made pizzas, from a regular cheese pizza to one of Hankey’s favorites called the Green and White Grocer – made with a pecan-basil pesto sauce, goat cheese and tomatoes. Another, the Live Oak BBQ Hawaiian, stars Live Oak Barbecue from East Austin with a spicy tomato sauce, queso de Oaxaca, pineapple and pickled jalapeños.
Although 12th and Chicon has long been disparaged, Hankey said its more talk than anything at this point and is glad to be part of the neighborhood. He and Dein live nearby themselves; part of the incentive to open King Bee Lounge was after they noticed their own lack of choices for late night spots.
“We have been able to see many of our old friends, as well as to be able to make new ones that live in the area,” Hankey said. “Colette and I are very excited to meet even more people from the neighborhood, and to help us all have a place where new friends can meet and where old friends can keep in touch.”
Plenty can sit and chat at the new spacious bar, made from the same cedar trees found in Brenham that were used to create the back bar. The cedar also keeps the bathrooms woodsy and aromatic, and the women’s room includes complimentary amenities, further separating King Bee from the Eastside dive hive.
Tucked around the corner from the bar is a nook dubbed the “Swan Room” that pays homage to the Legendary White Swan. The Little Elmore Reed Blues Band keeps its resident spot on Monday nights as well. Though some may mourn the loss of the Legendary White Swan, Hankey’s found a way to pay tribute to a classic and freshen it up.
In honor of the East Side Studio Tour, we'll be profiling new Eastside eateries all week.