A Love Letter To Bee’s Knees
When Kristi and Eric Kinlaw opened the Bee’s Knees in 2002, they envisioned something Augusta hadn’t seen before. Inspired by their travels and a local lack of late-night eats, they established a spot for shareable small plates and upscale drinks. In those days, craft beer was barely on the average drinker’s radar and the finer concept of a tapas bar— “a what bar?” —was unheard of. But with passion and worker bee spirit, over the next nearly-two decades Bee’s Knees grew into an institution. “The concept evolved over time,” says Kristi. “We wanted to be a bar that served food and ended up being a restaurant with a bar. As we grew up and had families, it matured along with us.”
Buzzing with a unique atmosphere and inimitable menu, they earned their stripes as pioneers of downtown dining. They remained one of Augusta’s most popular destinations for everything from date night and friendly gatherings to pre-bar-hopping and hangover brunch. In 2015, they expanded their endeavors to include the Hive, a full-service, 78-tap growler bar in the adjacent building. After a challenging year of adapting to the pandemic and cutting their staff from 50 down to 10, the Kinlaws recently made the difficult decision to close the doors of both locations.
As Augusta says goodbye to a favorite, we remember some of the thoughtful approaches that gave Bee’s Knees its charm.
Love Food – Bee’s Knees’ globally-inspired dishes from Pad Thai to Asian-style Tuna Tartare had passionate devotees. A primarily vegetarian menu, with highlights like Buffalo Tempeh and Kimchi Rice Balls, provided options a world away from average bar food. Creative seasonal cocktails and rotating draft beers kept the drink list fresh, but you could always count on standards like their signature Sangria, a recipe known to a chosen few. Weekly drink specials like Martini Night and Wine Night drew crowds like clockwork, and a long, Mimosa-heavy brunch with friends hit the spot on weekends.
Love Art – From the iconic bee-bottom sign painted by artist Raoul Pacheco to the rotating, original works that graced the walls, local art was integral to the Bee’s Knees’ aesthetic. Pieces on display were available for purchase with 100% of sales going back to local artists. Events like Secret Record Night and live jazz created an opportunity for guests to immerse themselves in art while enjoying food and friends.
Love Sustainability – Bee’s Knees was committed to sustainability, sourcing ingredients locally whenever possible and making efforts to minimize the alarming amount of waste restaurants can create. They used cloth napkins and took a “straws by request only” approach long before the recent industry-wide push. And each week they hauled off all wine and liquor bottles, boxes and more in their own beat-up truck to be recycled.
Love People – Towards guests, employees, and the community as a whole, Bee’s Knees was welcoming to all walks of life. They emphasized diversity in hiring and instilled inclusion into the company culture, especially making members of the LGBTQ community feel safe and accepted.
And as a hotspot where countless couples met for the first time, came for date nights, anniversaries, or popped the question, there’s no doubt that Bee’s Knees’ romantic atmosphere helped love flourish. But, “On top of the love connections,” says Kristi, “Some really long-lasting relationships were formed there, between employees, regulars and guests. It was just a special place to so many.”
The closing highlights the importance of supporting small, family-owned restaurants during hard times especially. “I want to remind people why it matters to support local businesses,” Kristi adds, “These places form our culture and our community, and when we lose them, we lose something very important.”
While future plans are still up in the air, Eric Kinlaw says he’s currently cooking up new ideas for the 10th Street space. Whatever the concept, the next busy bees to open there would do well to build off the values that made Bee’s Knees so special. And for the rest of us, the memories will hold a sweet place in our hearts.
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