Just before the novel coronavirus pandemic took hold of Texas, favorite and essential neighborhood bar King Bee had closed in late February. However, the East Austin bar is not gone forever: co-founders Billy and Colette Hankey sold their business to a new owner, bar hospitality group Pouring With Heart. The bar will reopen on 1906 East 12th Street in mid-April.
The Hankeys “expressed interest in passing it on,” says Steven Robbins, the director of operations of Pouring With Heart, the Los Angeles-based company with an Austin presence. “We love the bar and wanted to do our best to continue the story of King Bee.”
When King Bee reopens in the spring, Robbins says that nearly nothing will change about the bar. There will be cocktails — including that same delightful namesake drink, the frozen Bees Knees — as well as beer.
However, King Bee will no longer serve those overloaded party-cut pizzas. Instead, the patio will become the home of White Castle-inspired slider pop-up Golden Castle’s future food truck. Owner Stephen Kaste had operated a pop-up location in downtown Austin restaurant Hoffbau from November of last fall into mid-March.
The new truck will open on Monday, April 19, with a menu of sliders by the dozen and half-dozen, along with crinkle or cheese fries, and mozzarella sticks.
King Bee will host live music later when it’s safer since it’s “a huge part of the place and community,” explains Robbins.
Leading King Bee will be Timothy Heller, who has been with Pouring With Heart for the past 10 years. He worked at the company’s Los Angeles neighborhood bars like Tony’s Saloon and Golden Gopher.
King Bee’s last day under the Hankeys was on February 26, 2020. They opened the bar in 2014, taking over what had been the Legendary White Swan, which closed that same year. Before King Bee, Billy and Colette both worked at New American restaurant Second Bar & Kitchen.
Pouring With Heart (formerly known as 213 Hospitality) is also opening a new rum-focused bar, named Caña, as part of its dual downtown Austin bars the whiskey-focused Seven Grand and the mezcal-focused Las Perlas on East Seventh Street. Caña will be found on the shared patio between the spaces. “It seemed like a natural fit to put a baby Cana on the patio, says Robbins, “and create a very unique experience, joining all three spirit bars.” (These are all second iterations of the three bars that originally opened in Los Angeles.)
Caña will serve a Caribbean-style cocktail menu with many rum-based drinks. Robbins emphasizes that is not a tiki bar, though, it will mix up mai tais and banana daiquiris. Also available will be cigars and dominos. Overseeing all three bars will be general manager Stephanie Aguilar, who had been an event manager of White Lodging Services.
Seven Grand and Las Perlas, along with on-site food truck Asador, reopened/opened on Wednesday, March 31. None of these Austin bars will offer takeout cocktails. Caña’s opening is being postponed by several weeks.
When it reopens/opens, Seven Grand/Las Perlas/Caña will require masks and operate with social distancing measures and limited capacity. That service model won’t change “until our staff is vaccinated and it feels safe to change,” says Robbins.
Half Step — which was co-founded by bar expert Chris Bostick, who is still a part-owner — reopened its outdoor area with mask requirements on Tuesday, March 23. Robbins has been managing the bar’s operations for the past five years. Also on deck is new general manager Caitlyn Jackson, who had previously been the bar manager of nearby hotel restaurant Geraldine’s.
Note: Currently, Seven Grand, Las Perlas, Caña, and Half Step will only open for on-site service, and there are still safety concerns surrounding indoor dining in Austin. For updated information on coronavirus cases in your area, please visit the city of Austin website. Studies indicate that there is a lower exposure risk when outdoors, but the level of risk involved with patio dining is contingent on bars following strict social distancing and other safety guidelines.
Update, Tuesday, April 13, 2:14 p.m.: This article, originally published on March 17., has been updated to reflect the new opening dates of Seven Grand/Las Perlas/Caña/Asador, as well as the scheduled opening date for the Golden Castle food truck.
- All Coverage of King Bee [EATX]