December 24, 2013

Braving the Elements, Cocktail in Hand

             Winter is well and truly upon us and why I felt the need to subject myself to a bitter 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius) when the current weather outside is biting enough as it is, is unknown to me. I suppose I am always on the search for novelty and ICEBAR by ICEHOTEL London certainly is novel. For the rest of this review, I will try to refrain from cheesy jokes referencing how I was “chilling” in ICEBAR or how the crowd was hardly “frosty,” but for now, just indulge me and believe me when I say that ICEBAR was indeed very, very “cool” – figuratively and, perhaps more obviously, literally.

             ICEBAR claims the title of the United Kingdom’s only permanent ice bar. Tucked away on Heddon Street, about halfway between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, ICEBAR is a well-secluded luxury that can be discovered only by those looking for it. Upon first entry, I was lulled into that false sense of security that comes with hanging heaters and inviting seats. If a cold climate isn’t your thing, the lounge area sells drinks without the added frigidity that ICEBAR offers and the much cozier restaurant situated downstairs serves European cuisine.

             After gathering tickets with my friend, who agreed to come along for the rather unusual expedition, we waited until it was our time to enter ICEBAR. A surprisingly long line started to form of apprehensive adventurers waiting their turn to embark on an unforgettable excursion. Staff members cloaked us in arctic blue thermal capes with white fur trim with a single swoop over our heads. Looking magical and mystical, we stepped into our ice kingdom.

             The cost of our tickets came to 16 pounds each, not a bad price considering it included a 40-minute session within the bar (trust me, you probably wouldn’t want to stay longer), a cocktail of choice, and how can I forget the fetching robe with attached gloves to help endure the shocking environment. I recommend booking online, because ICEBAR operates by sessions and there’s no telling if you would be able to get in by just purely showing up on a whim. Prices also vary depending on what time and day you decide to go. A champagne session is also available for those of you looking for a more opulent way to warm up.

             The bar itself was crisp and bright, modernly harsh and angular. The space was rather contained, but with attendees not in short supply, it mimicked the atmosphere of a well-established bar. The bar vastly lived up to its namesake; the tables, chairs, walls, bar, and even the cocktail glasses were chiseled to glacial perfection and undeniable “blueness.” I chose a cocktail with a lingering aftertaste of lychee, passion fruit, and lemon juice and sipped it dutifully from my square elongated ice cube of a glass. The more I sipped, the more the warmth of my breath managed to wear away its transient nature to leave a mouth-shaped groove in its side.

             The bar blared funky soul and smooth jazz overhead, which was rather quirky, but somehow appropriate. Before you envision people slipping and sliding around the floor showing off their dance moves, ladies will be glad to hear that heels are permitted due to the non-slip metal, not ice, floor. I felt rather uncoordinated in my hooded fashion statement as I balanced my camera in one reluctantly ungloved hand and my cocktail in the other. The hooded garment actually equalized everyone in the bar, taking the focus off appearances and turning it towards enjoying the atmosphere. A maximum capacity of 60 people inside ICEBAR already makes it unique compared to the sardine level of compaction in typical bars and pubs in London during weekends. Little nooks and crannies in ICEBAR allow guests to hide away with the group they came with, while exposed areas leave room for mingling.

My friend, Catherine, beaming despite her polar surroundings    
             The slivers, shards, and slabs of precisely carved and sculpted Torne River ice are gathered from Jukkasjärvi in Northern Sweden. Each autumn, ICEHOTEL’s experts use chisels and chainsaws to construct an entirely new design different to that from the previous year. The current theme, “Frozen Architecture,” was devised by Jens Thoms Ivarsson and Mikael “Nille” Nilsson. ICEBAR might not become a frequent haunt, but it is certainly worth at least one trip for memorability’s sake. The bar is open all-year round, so no matter what the season, you are in for an extreme voyage that, while it might come as a shock to the system, good drinks, great company, and even better outerwear (ahem) more than help to soften the blow.

             Plan your visit to ICEBAR here.

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