Free House, Tavern Law, Speakeasy. It’s easy to forget where these terms for pubs came from.
The history of the bar is fully intertwined with free-speech and the right to protest. When a government seeks to controls the rights of all, or some – conversations between assembled groups of drinkers is one of the hardest to stop.
The surreal political climate in the United States has me heartened to see famous bartenders like Diageo World Class Champion Charles Joly using their elevated standing to call out authoritarian forces trying to fearfully subvert the will of the free Republic. He’s posted from a march on Washington, and the airports he frequents. He’s not alone; a quick search of the social media feeds of many noted bartenders has come ablaze with activism.
There needs to be an immediate discussion about the role of the modern bartender in protest. That conversation suggests a notable bar man who did his best in trying circumstances; Frank Meier, head bartender of the Cafe Parisian, in the Paris Ritz, during Nazi occupation.
Trained by Harry Craddock in New York, at the famous Hoffman House, Meier created the Bees Knees cocktail.
Known as a gambler, when Frank was too busy to get away from the bar to place bets, his buddy Ernest Hemingway would go place money for him. Today, there’s still a bar named for Hemingway in the hotel. This is partly how he succeeded as a spy.
He continued to run his bar even after the Germans occupied Paris. The Ritz became a residence for Nazi brass and their sympathizers, including Hermann Göring and Coco Chanel. Being part-Jewish, Meier did more than survive the war and avoid deportation.
“There were very few people, who were staff at the Ritz, who were not actively engaged in some kind of resistance.” – The Hotel on Place Vendôme by Tilar J. Mazzeo
Despite being German, Frank Meier did what he could to fight the Nazi’s during WWII. He used his influence to help people escape the Nazi’s, even helping forge passports so Jewish guests could escape the Nazi held hotel. He passed coded messages between resistance fighters on German troop movement and was involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler. The plot was purportedly hatched over his cocktails. He passed the information under the guise of running a massive gambling operation from the hotel. All while under constant surveillance by the Gestapo.
If you believe that refugees should be able to continue to flee persecution and violence, here’s the Frank Meier classic to toast that flight:
Bees Knees – by Frank Meier
1.5 oz London Dry Gin
1 oz fresh Lemon juice
.75 oz Red Clover Honey water | Method: Dilute honey with hot water 2 parts honey to one part water, allow to cool.
Optional: Dash of Ms Better’s Orange Tree Bitters
Combine ingredients in shaker. Hard shake. Fine strain into chilled coupé.