Critic’s Notebook

Bees Infest Local Restaurants!

Where they’re swarming this summer.

By Kathryn Robinson July 16, 2012

This summer marks the first full year of beekeeping for the good folks at the Fairmont Olympic, who hired a bee consultant to help them set up five hives on the roof.

Yes, a downtown Seattle hotel invited bees to its property. A half million of them.

Fear is such a ‘90s response.

All over town, restaurants and hotels are setting up habitats for honeybees, out of a desire to preserve vigorous pollination, a sense of wilderness romance—and really good honey-marinated chicken wings. The same outfit that set up the Fairmont, Ballard Bee Company, installed hives atop Ballard Ave’s Bastille and on the property of Kathy Casey Food Studios just down the street.

Two years ago the Salish Lodge and Spa in Snoqualmie got in on the action, thanks to then-general manager John Murphy. His vision sprang not only from that lodge’s history—the “Honey From the Sky” brunch service made famous when this was the site of the iconic Snoqualmie Falls Lodge—but also the many ways super fresh honey might work its way into dinner recipes, even spa treatments.

So when Murphy took the general manager post at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland last year—home to Bin on the Lake and the Beach Cafe —he installed a similar program there. After all, the Woodmark is situated between Lake Washington and a little stream-fed wetland, perfect for the hives. Now six hives there house about a half-million bees, which they’re hoping will yield a thousand pound honey harvest next month—their first.

Bin on the Lake chef Dylan Giordan (late of Serafina) is making plans to drizzle the honey on homemade cheese, swizzle it into cocktails, use it to sweeten marinades for chicken wings and dressings for salads.

Even use it in beer, which is already being done at the Fairmont. The Fairmont’s honey, which has seen two harvests now, is made into Pike Brewery’s Pike Olympic Honey Ale, on tap at the Fairmont’s Shuckers. Fairmont executive chef Gavin Stephenson has used both its harvests—the first rich and floral, the second lighter and clearer—on everything from The Georgian homemade breakfast granola to a glaze for last month’s Copper River salmon run.

And how do hotel guests feel about their sweet mates?

“They ask about the bees all the time, want to see them,” reports Fairmont Olympic PR and marketing manager, Kristen Gladfelter. “But low walls on our historic building’s roof prevent us taking tours up.” Murphy said he gets apprehension from a few quarters, but that he just tells them the story of what happened when the beekeeper forgot his special suit one day: Out of 500,000 bees, only one sting.

“When they’re making honey,” Murphy affirms, “bees aren’t interested in us at all.”

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