Ice, Ice Baby
Winter heated up with the announcement that another outpost of the popular Minus5° ice bars will open later this month in New York City. The bar, in the Hilton Hotel in midtown, is modeled after the ones in Las Vegas and will feature ice walls, floors, seats, bars -- even glasses.
"After more than four years in Las Vegas operating America's first and only true ice bars, we are thrilled to be coming to New York City," said Craig Ling, Minus5° founder and vice president of development. "Minus5° is more than a bar, it's a true entertainment destination location. It's the perfect place to go before a night on the town, for a group outing or a place for locals to take visitors."
Minus5° Ice Bar has been operating for four years in Sin City, where it has four locations at The Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, and the Monte Carlo Resort and Casino. Inspired by ice hotels in Iceland and Sweden, Minus5° Ice Bar originated in Queenstown, New Zealand, said Director of Operations Noel Bowman. Ling thought the concept would go over well in Las Vegas.
"It just took off from day one," said Bowman. "We convinced Mandalay Bay to do it, and the public received it very well. There is a real novelty of being in an ice bar in the middle of the Mojave Desert!"
Coming Into the Cold
The prospect of being surrounded by ice certainly has its charms in a city where the summer temperature can exceed 110 degrees Farenheit. But how much appeal will it have in a seasonal city like New York? In January and February, New Yorkers have to brave freezing rain, snow and its slushy remains. How much will patrons there embrace an icy enclave?
For starters, said Bowman, they’ll already be dressed for the weather. Mostly, though, it’s the novelty that will appeal to jaded New Yorkers. "Everything is made of ice," Bowman said. "It is so different and unique, like when Superman threw down that Kryptonite and the Fortress of Solitude rose up."
The New York bar will be built completely of ice, with ice tables and chairs, ice walls, ice bars and rails, and even handmade drinking glasses made of ice, created and shipped frozen from New Zealand. Everything is kept within 23 F. Rounding out the experience will be a state-of-the-art sound and LED light show.
Other sites have been equally successful, according to Bowman. "A Winter Olympics pop-up site [in Vancouver, BC] crushed it, and Minneapolis had one, where they too were dressed for the cold, and figured they might as well check it out." The Vegas basic package includes a faux fur to keep the underdressed warm. Most patrons opt for the VIP experience, which includes a T-shirt, an extra drink and a photo, which has proved to be biggest draw. Specialty packages include pristine flights of vodka tastings in mini-ice glasses. There are two tasting menus to choose from: high-end Russian vodkas; or flavored vodkas like Wedding Cake and Bubble Gum by Three Olives.
To build its micro empire of ice, Minus5° brings in 60 to 90 tons of Canadian ice in 250-pound blocks shipped in Styrofoam boxes. Why Canadian ice? According to Bowman, no supplier in Vegas had that quantity, so they turned to our northern neighbor, which is to ice what Saudi Arabia is to oil. "Canadian water is very pure and clear, and we got a majority of the perimeter walls and blocks from Canada," said Bowman. "They grow the ice, harvest it and store it all year long with a process to keep it as clear as possible."
The Hilton site will take about three weeks to build, starting with perimeter walls, then adding ice sculptures and benches. After that, construction workers (or are they ice sculptors?) will break out chainsaws and start carving ornamental flourishes. The New York bar will have a 1940s theme, including King Kong hanging from an ice Empire State Building, swatting down planes. In Las Vegas it’s the Vegas cityscape and a 16-ton Elvis. "If we can dream it, we can build it out of ice, relatively inexpensively," Bowman said.
Bowman said the company was looking to do something different when Hilton approached it. At the corner of West 53rd Street and Sixth Avenue, in the heart of midtown Manhattan’s corporate skyscrapers, the New York Hilton is one of the city’s preferred spots for business leaders and politicians. Minus5° has a 10-year lease on the location. Bowman anticipates heavy media coverage of this unique lounge.
The Las Vegas bars are popular for photo shoots and filming. Minus5° has been the site of shoots for Laura Croft, Steel Panther and Recycled Percussion, as well The Travel Channel’s "Trip Flip", "Extreme Vegas", Fox’s "New Year’s Eve Live from Las Vegas", Animal Planet’s "Tanked" and ABC’s "Live With Regis and Kelly."
Hilton New York General Manager Mark Lauer considers the ice bar much more than a place to grab a cocktail. "It’s an entertainment experience the likes of which New Yorkers have not seen previously in this city," he said.
"In New York, there are so many fun things we can do," Bowman said. "Victor Cruz doing a salsa dance in the end zone, Donald Trump with an ice comb-over. The fact that we can constantly change the ice to reflect current events is great."
Minus5° Ice Bar is scheduled to open in March at the Hilton Hotel New York at 1335 Sixth Ave. For more information, visit www.minus5experience.com
Get Your Chill On
You don’t need to be in New York or Las Vegas to revel in the ice bar experience. Smaller ice bars exist in other cities around the U.S., including Orlando and Beverly Hills.
One of the 10 largest permanent ice bars in the world, Icebar Orlando comprises 50 tons of ice carved into a winter wonderland and kept at a frosty 27 F. Featuring state-of-the-art lighting, carvings and music, the bar provides coats and gloves for guests, but advises them to wear closed-toed shoes (it is Florida, after all). The bar is near the Orange County Convention Center and is a popular destination for corporate events, offering logo-etched ice luges and other amenities.
Icebar Orlando is at 8967 International Drive in Orlando, Fla. For more information, go to http://www.icebarorlando.com/
VODBOX at Nic’s Beverly Hills
This ultimate walk-in freezer is not an ice bar per se, but a freezer with leather shelving lining the walls, where hundreds of bottles of vodka await tasting. Twelve guests don faux fur coats and hats to enter the 28 F freezer, where a vodka expert will spend about 15 minutes providing info and tastings.
VODBOX is at 453 North Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, Calif.
For more information, go to www.nicsbeverlyhills.com/vodbox
Mehanata Bulgarian Bar
Mehanata, a bar on New York’s ultra-hip Lower East Side, offers a sub-zero vodka drinking room called The Ice Cage. Tucked in the bar’s lower level, it’s more a walk-in freezer than an ice bar, but savvy branding has labeled it an "ethereal Siberian discotheque."
Guests pay $20 for the chance to don an authentic Soviet military uniform and have two minutes to drink up to six shots of vodka in a glass made of ice. Be forewarned: If you get sick in the ice cage, you have to pay to have the mess cleaned up.
Mehanata Bulgarian Bar is at 113 Ludlow St. in New York.
For more information, go to www.mehanata.com