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Bring Back the Queen Bee

Bartender Abigail Gullo re-imagines the Buenos Aires-born Charles H. Baker classic.

Bees Knees Cocktail Recipe

Abigail Gullo has a thing for apples. Growing up in Hyde Park, New York, she took full advantage of the autumnal bounty, frequenting Hudson Valley orchards and filling her car with as much fruit as she could carry. The fixation informs her professional proclivities, too.

“I really love working with apple brandy,” says the former head bartender of New Orleans’s Compère Lapin. Gullo leveled up the love last year by moving to Washington, the biggest apple-growing state in America, to run the bar at Ben Paris in Seattle’s State Hotel. It’s the ideal pulpit from which to preach about her favorite apple brandy drinks, including her interpretation of Charles H. Baker’s underappreciated Queen Bee.

A sour augmented with honey and Curaçao, the regal-sounding recipe is one of many detailed in Baker’s The South American Gentleman’s Companion, published in 1951. Gullo, an admirer of the peripatetic author since her days working for Baker superfan St. John Frizell at Brooklyn’s Fort Defiance, has long been taken with the colorful recollections found in this two-volume travelogue—particularly those featuring José “Pépé” Eyzaguirre, a politico and bon vivant of Chilean descent, and Arturo Lagos, a prominent Argentine sculptor.

Both of Baker’s high-profile pals belonged to Círculo de Armas, an ultra-exclusive men’s society that’s still active today. Headquartered in a well-concealed two-story mansion on Avenida Corrientes in Buenos Aires, the “Circle of Arms” also served as the home base for “Las Marmitas,” an epicurean club-within-a-club that, as Baker reveals, “[met] once a week . . . to fix specially fine cookery masterpieces in the pots for which their small but select group gets it name.” The Queen Bee, attributed to Lagos, was a favored refreshment of this crowd.

Gullo sees some parallels between Baker’s South American social activities and her own. You had to “know a guy” to gain admission to “this club, this place where people who loved to cook these special dishes would hang,” she says. “In a way, it sounds like what me and my friends do now.”

Per Baker, the Queen Bee, as Las Marmitas took it, consisted of two ounces of the “best apple brandy possible,” plus two teaspoons each of lemon juice, strained honey and white orange Curaçao. Gullo swaps in “brighter and fresher” eau de vie for the brandy component. “An unaged apple brandy is something closer to a gin, with beautiful, fragrant aromatics,” she says. In a nod to her new town, she has replaced Curaçao with a lemon verbena liqueur produced by Seattle’s Sidetrack Distillery, which bolsters the fresh citrus and complements the sweetness of her honey syrup without overwhelming.

Gullo, who’s lately noticed an uptick in calls for Bee’s Knees at Ben Paris, sees the Queen Bee as a logical next step for these guests. “It’s perfect for the summertime, but it also goes so well into the fall,” she says. “Nice and well balanced—the perfect Goldilocks drink.”

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