It’s one of New York City’s most legendary buildings. And it’s keeping a secret.
On a rooftop deck with a sweeping view, 20 stories above Park Avenue, there are bees. Lots of them. In fact, more than 300,000 of them. But don’t worry. They’re supposed to be there. As part of a unique initiative at Waldorf Astoria New York, six active hives are making honey, to sweeten the dishes served at the restaurants inside.
The idea came from David Garcelon, director of culinary for Waldorf Astoria New York, who believes in local ingredients and had worked with hives in his native Toronto. Pulling it off in New York, however, wasn’t easy.
In fact, until just three years ago, keeping bees in the city was illegal. So Garcelon enlisted Andrew Cote, the beekeeper who helped lead the effort that lifted the city’s ban in 2010. Since that victory, more than 300 hives have sprung up across New York—but only one with an address like Waldorf Astoria.
“Setting up the hives here was a fantastic experience,” says Cote, who founded the New York City Beekeepers Association and the nonprofit organization Bees Without Borders, which teaches beekeeping as a way of alleviating poverty in developing countries.
“The hotel never balked at any request, big or small, and no expense was spared. Most of all, their foremost concern was for the bees,” says Cote. “They preferred healthy bees over higher honey production. They truly care about the bees and the environment, and it was evident every step of the way.”
Proximity to the 843-acre Central Park means there is plenty of green space to fuel the hives’ honey production. In return, the Waldorf bees help to pollinate the city’s horticultural assets and ensure the greenery continues to flourish for years to come.
The timing couldn’t be better. New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and philanthropist David Rockefeller recently jointly pledged $10 million to the MillionTreesNYC initiative, a reforestation project with a goal of planting 1 million new trees in the city by 2017.
“The bees forage up to three miles for nectar,” says Garcelon. “So it’s New York honey in every sense, sourced everywhere from Central Park to the trees and flowers that line our streets and avenues.”
In 2012, Waldorf Astoria’s busy bees produced nearly 120 pounds of honey for use in the hotel’s restaurants, including the famous Peacoc Alley. By the end of 2013, that figure will likely quadruple.
“Waldorf Astoria did not invent urban beekeeping,” says Cote. “But it did perfect it.”
Urban beekeeping has become popular around the world since the ages of 2000. In large cities as Paris, London or Toronto beehives appeared on the rooftops of famous buildings. In Toronto the Fairmont Royal York Hotel
launched its own apiaries in 2008. The example was followed by others, such as the Intercontinental Hotel in Berlin, in Paris and Vienna the opera house has an urban beekeeping atelier on the rooftop, and the luxury fashion brand Louis Vuitton installed three beehives on the roof of its headquarters on the Champs-Élysées in Paris – the product is labelled as ‘La Belle Jardinière’ and distributed as a gift to friends of Louis Vuitton.