There's something new buzzing at the W Hotel. Behind the ventilation ducts and pipes on the roof of the W Austin Hotel, the newest tenants of Block 21 are hard at work in the bee yard. Created in partnership with Central Texas Bee Rescue (CTBR), a local nonprofit committed to saving the dwindling honey bee population, the new rooftop apiary is the first of its kind on a high-rise in downtown Austin.
The initial installation of 10 bee boxes will soon grow to 40, producing 4,000 pounds of honey per year. The W Austin will use the honey in TRACE, its restaurant, and bar, slowly replacing as many other sweeteners as possible. Guests will also find the honey in their rooms as part of the mini bar and in restorative treatments at the AWAY spa.
Guiding our tour gently around the bees, Walter Schumacher, head of CTBR, described how to stay out of their flight path. (If they want you to move, they would approach your face several times, as if they were asking you to leave.) He also explained how the apiary has sparked an entire rooftop garden. “The wild bees have been requeened, which makes the hive docile,” he said. “The bees aren’t aggressive, but by adding a garden to the roof, we were able to keep the bees away from the 4th floor pool or other areas that might bother guests.”
The bees will feast from 110 different garden baskets growing organic citrus and olive trees, herbs and flowers. CTBR supplements the bees’ diet with a homemade fruit juice, a natural sugar source instead of the refined sugar water used by many beekeepers. Like the honey, TRACE will use the garden harvest for its menu and, eventually, the restaurant will only use herbs grown in-house.
To ensure the health of the bees, CTBR will periodically rotate the boxes from the roof to an area near Barton Creek so that the bees aren’t always in production mode. They are even building shade and adding misters to the roof to protect the bees from the intense summer heat and sun on the open roof. The bees might be a bit pampered, but they are at the W after all.
TRACE is hosting a free, public event on Thursday, June 13 at 6:30 p.m. to celebrate the first harvest with sample of cocktails and dishes featuring the honey from the apiary. Guests are encouraged to wear black and yellow.