There are thousands of special guests staying in the "penthouse" of the Gratz Park Inn that nobody ever notices. But you will be able to sample their work at a special dinner this summer at Distilled, the restaurant in the hotel.
Chef Mark Wombles, working with beekeeper Bryan Proffitt, has installed two beehives on the roof, where 60,000 to 120,000 bees are busy manufacturing what could be 5 gallons or more of honey.
Wombles, who opened Distilled late last year, is planning a special dinner using that honey in a variety of dishes and drinks.
And eventually, once they have plenty, the hives will provide honey for guests at the hotel, too.
"You'll get 'rooftop' honey! It's going to be a wonderful thing," Wombles said. "I'd like to be able to give a little souvenir jar to people who stay at the hotel."
He and Proffitt went on the roof recently to check out how the bees were doing. These particular bees are Italian hybrids bred for their passive nature and copious honey production. The bees zip through the Gratz Park area, collecting nectar for the hive from local flowers, trees, and lawns.
"Downtown Lexington has done a good job of supporting color and diversity, so there's a lot of flowers and plants," Proffitt said.
Wombles said he'd never had a beehive before but was taken with the idea of something local. And what could be more local than house-made honey?
(Wombles is contemplating putting hens on the roof to produce eggs for the restaurant, too.)
"Doing bees on the roof just gave it that element of uniqueness, and I thought it would be so much fun to take care of a hive like that," Wombles said. "If you could go up in the warmer months, get honey and then serve it for dinner, I thought it would be so cool."
And honey suits an endless array of foods and drinks.
"Honey is pretty diverse," Wombles said. It goes in anything from a vinaigrette to bourbon drinks, can be sweet or savory, goes well as a glaze like on a chop, and even with seafood, he said.
"I can't really think of something you couldn't put it on," Wombles said.
Distilled already uses it in several dishes, including pancakes with honey and fruit compote for breakfast.
For dinner, Distilled has a delicate goat cheese, squash blossoms with peach mostarda, house Guanciale (cured pork cheek), and honey for $11.
And in the bar, you could get the Bee's Knees, with gin, lemon juice and honey syrup made with lavender blossoms.
For the honey dinner this summer, Wombles is working on a special menu of the goat cheese squash blossoms, a summer berry salad with honey vinaigrette, honey-glazed ham shank with creamed grits and carrot slaw, and Basque cake with dried cherry sauce and honey vanilla walnut ice cream for $58 plus tax and tip.
Wombles and Proffitt hope the hives will have enough honey to harvest by August, when the date for the dinner will be set.
That's a bit later than normal, but this year has been slow due to a cool, damp spring and summer. And these hives are new; hives installed last year didn't make it through the bitterly cold winter, and they had to start over.
New hives mean less honey, Proffitt said. But in future years they hope to have much more.
"Once it does come, we will try to utilize it as much as possible," Wombles said. "Each year we want to try to add more hives."