On the Rocks

On the Rocks

Think an exciting night out in freezing temperatures is only for those braving Times Square on New Year’s Eve? Think again! Ice lounges, the newest trend in nightclubs, are taking the stage for a novelty night out.

It started nearly two decades ago at the annual winter festival in Jukkasjårvi, Sweden, where the ICEHOTEL and its in-house bar opened to wide acclaim. Since then, ice bars have popped up all over the world, allowing visitors to flock to them for a one-of-a-kind lounge experience.

Each bar has its own theme, such as “twisted ice” and “purity with a twist,” “undersea” or even “heavy industry,” which is reflected in the stunning ice sculptures that dominate the décor. Standard lighting is replaced by a light show. And each year, the interior design is tweaked (a perk of having insides that can be easily changed) to display a new theme. These stunning interiors are all part of the ice bar experience.

As for what’s on offer, each lounge has different drinks and food to tantalize guests. ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL, London offers drinks which range from warm martinis to a “crumble” (vanilla vodka, fresh blackberries, fresh ground cinnamon, blackberry purée, vanilla syrup and apple juice). Their extensive menu has charcuterie boards with everything from wild boar salame to smoked swordfish loin; entrées such as reindeer sausage; and tempting dessert offerings like green apple cheesecake.

The ice bar experience

After paying an entry fee (which varies according to location and amenities selected), you “gear up” by exchanging your street shoes for snow boots and donning a parka (a kind of Eskimo poncho which can be faux fur-lined or down-filled). Next come gloves and a hat, and then you pass through an airlock and enter a space which is a cross between a winter wonderland and Superman’s arctic Fortress of Solitude. The temperature is maintained around 17°F and the humidity is kept low to prevent your lips from sticking to your drink.

Some ice lounges have set time limits, while others don’t. (Most customers max out at the half-hour mark.)

And, although I’ve heard this repeated many times, it may be an urban legend: a side effect of cold is that one drink equals three. 

Where to go

Four years after ICEHOTEL launched it’s first in-house bar, they partnered with Absolut Vodka to create ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL with more icy locations beyond Sweden’s borders. They commissioned interior designers, decorators and ice sculpture artists, as ice bars are always magnificently carved and architecturally interesting, in addition to purchasing large walk-in freezers and creating frost-proof drinks.

Today, ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL has locations in Denmark, Norway, Tokyo and England. Everything in each bar is built out of crystal-clear ice from a local water source; not only is the structure itself conducted from ice, but also the bar and furniture inside, and even the plates and glasses (the seating surfaces are covered in soft, fake fur).

Close on the heels of ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL is the New Zealand export Minus 5 with two branches in Las Vegas, one at the Mandalay Bay and the other at the Monte Carlo. When visiting the latter, it was 108°F outside and, in less than 30 seconds, the atmosphere was 90° cooler.

“People love the novelty of an ice bar in the middle of the Mojave desert,” says Noel Bowman, Minus 5 director of Operations, adding, “The thrill-seekers come when they’ve done everything else in town and are bored, but they leave saying [the experience] is the highlight of their trip. It refreshes the vacation.” Minus 5’s in-house ice carver changes the bar and the sculptures about every two months, and can change the interior to reflect the location, season, or even corporate logos for private parties. The venues have proven so successful that more are being planned. Next in line: New York City.

Entry to Minus 5 starts at $25 and includes one drink and the use of a protective parka, gloves and boots. Pay more and you get more —like fancier and furrier clothing and extra drinks.

One of the newest and most unusual expressions is the Svedka Ice Bar aboard the Norwegian cruise ship Epic. That’s right, there’s a luxury boat that carries its own iceberg. The bar itself is set in changing hues of blue, green and purple LED lighting that simulates the Northern Lights to create a distinctively arctic-looking atmosphere. The 25-person bar serves specialty drinks such as the Polaris: SVEDKA Citron, Inniskillin ice wine and lemon/lime soda.

There are a few more ice lounges scattered around the U.S. and the phenomenon can now be found in 20 countries, including the Middle East. With so many to chose from, and more being added all the time, try an ice bar for stone cold fun.

Published on December 28, 2010