This Cannes Bartender Is the Biggest "Buzz" in Town (Literally)

Fabrice Rambert/Courtesy of Scott Roxborough
Balestra grows his own herbs in a garden near the hotel pool.

Meet Emanuele Balestra, who insists on harvesting his own honey from Hotel Majestic's rooftop bees for a cocktail.

The view from the rooftop of the Hotel Majestic is, as you'd expect, magnifique.

To your right, Cannes' legendary red carpet in all its splendor. Straight ahead, the Mediterranean. And, just at the horizon, the snow-topped French Alps, suitably spectacular. What you don't expect at the top of this most glamorous of Cannes hostelries is the sound. The sound of bees.

But there they are, buzzing in and out of four squat wooden hives that sit like mini-condos next to the air ventilation shafts; 40,000 to 60,000 per hive producing an estimated 154 pounds of honey a year.

The hives are the brainchild of master mixologist Emanuele Balestra, who moved to Cannes in 2014 to become the hotel's chief bartender and has since turned the Majestic, a luxury hotel about as intrinsically artisanal as a Starbucks, into a virtual farmers market. He tore up the flower beds in front of the pool and planted herbs for his creative libations. Lemon verbena for his "Majestic Juleps." Sage for his trademark margaritas. Juniper for the Grande Dame (a champagne and gin concoction). And honey, lots of it, from his busy bees for the "Bee Fashioned," Balestra's take on the old-fashioned. "Always honey, never sugar" is one of Balestra's many mixologist mantras. And yes, he could just buy quality honey from a local market. But it wouldn't be "his."

"To understand something, I need to make it with my hands, myself," he says. "I was always like this, I always wanted to find out why. And how. How things worked."

Balestra, who is Italian — "from the middle of nowhere, by Lake Maggiore" — has wanted to be a bartender for as long as he can remember. He started when he was 8 years old, standing on empty crates of San Pellegrino to reach the bottles, serving up drinks —"nonalcoholic, of course"— to customers at his family's restaurant. At 19, Balestra left home to see the world and serve up a good Manhattan. He worked in Scotland and Australia, at La Mamounia in Marrakech and at Chicago's Trump Tower. Everywhere he went, he learned something new. Glasgow taught him about whisky. Chicago the art of making perfect, round ice cubes with mineral water. In lush Marrakech, he got the idea to grow his own botanical garden. Since coming to Cannes, he's discovered, in neighboring Antibes, the Verrerie de Biot, a family-run glass-blowing company. "They've been teaching me to make my own cocktail glasses," he says. But he doesn't take them out during the festival. "I don't have too many. When one of my glasses breaks, that's when I speak Italian. And not in a good way."

This story first appeared in the May 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.