At almost any bar in the world you can get a drink with ice. At a few you can get a drink in ice. While sitting on seats made of ice. At a table made of ice. Surrounded by walls made of ice.
The concept of the ice bar originated, logically enough, in Sweden where both water and freezing temperatures are abundant. These icy drinking establishments soon became popular around Scandinavia, partly because they combined two elements Scandinavians tend to embrace (cold and alcohol) and partly because these bars’ LED lighting, artworks of frozen water and and intimate settings made them great places to chill out. (Pun. Sorry.)
Today, there are more than two dozen ice bars around the globe including ones in Amsterdam, London, Poland, Canada and Alaska. Not all of these frozen saloons are in places with cold climes. Hence this Spot Cool Stuff overview of ice bars in warm places.
For the purposes of this review, a “warm place” is anywhere it doesn’t snow in the winter and regularly gets hot in the summer. So, the ice bar in Beijing doesn’t count. The one in Shanghai would have had it not recently closed.
All of the selections on this list, like most of the ice bars anywhere, charge an entrance fee to get in. Usually this fee includes one free drink and use of cold-weather clothing that is designed as much to protect patrons from the bar’s sub-freezing temperatures as it is to protect the bar itself from the patrons’ body heat. To help keep their establishments below freezing, ice bars also have strict limits on the number of people allowed in.
And with that, let’s kick back with a cold one and tour the world’s ice bars in warm places . . .
Gold Coast minus5
Australia’s Surfers Paradise has one of the world’s most heavenly ice bars. Bear skins adorn the ice benches here illuminated by the flames of an ice candelabra. The world’s first ice aquarium, along with ice sculptures surfboards, are the only reminders of the tropical world outside of these ice wall. It is all very cool.
This ice bar is part of the New Zealand based minus5 chain that also runs ice bars in Sydney and Las Vegas among other places.
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Dubai’s Chillout wins the award for the ice bar in the warmest location—the difference between the temperature inside the bar and out can be as much as 50 degrees Celsius (or 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
Sadly, the Chillout would not win any awards for the best ice bar. It is OK as ice bars go. There’s an impressive ice sculpture of the Dubai skyline in one corner and a 2 meter (7 foot) ice chandelier in the center of the bar. However, on one side of the bar there’s a wall-long window that looks out upon a shopping arcade; this window subtracts from the atmosphere inside the bar and causes patrons to feel like they are in a goldfish bowl being gawked by the warm-looking tourists outside.
That said, Chillout is a great place for people watching. It is fun to see the reaction of locals entering the bar, most of whom have never in their lives been in a place so cold. And the juxtaposition of people in full Arab dress walking around an icy environment must be experienced to be fully appreciated.
As with much in Dubai, nearly everything inside the Chillout is imported—the ice is from Canada and the bar’s workers are from places like Russia and Romania where residents are more used to the cold.
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Churches. Convents. A large cathedral. And an ice bar? Among the grandeur of this town in central Portugal is an ice bar that’s downright fun. European styled sculptures dot this space that makes heavy use of blue LED lighting. The seats, tables, bars and walls are all carved from Canadan glaciers, though the glasses are frozen from local water.
Orlando, Florida USA
We are not fans of the ICEBAR Orlando’s white ponchos that are included in the $35 admission fee. (Besides doing a poor job keeping you warm these ponchos make the patrons here look like they are about to head out into a rain storm). We are, however, huge fans of the workmanship of this ice bar itself. The entire bar is melted down twice a year and then recrafted using 50 tons of ice, so there’s no telling what the bar will look like when you go. On our visit, the walls of this place looked like they were constructed of ice bricks, giving the whole bar the feel of a giant igloo. There were intricately carved artworks throughout the bar. And our incarnation of the ICEBAR Orlando had a fireplace (behind glass, of course). The combination of the flame’s flickering light dancing upon the icey environment was incredible!
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Absolute Icebar Tokyo
We wish that the Absolute Icebar Tokyo would redo their ceiling to match what is an otherwise impressive—and impressively fun—ice bar. At the far end of the bar snow walls frame enchanting alcoves where patrons can lounge on shaggy rugs. Though you might find it warmer to mill around the central bar area, adorned by ice statues and translucent Escher ice renderings. The ceiling, sadly, is made of those Styrofoam rectangles used by so many schools and office buildings. So if you visit here, keep your eyes directed straight ahead an upon the excellent selection of cocktails. We suggest the Tokyo Forest, made with green tea liqueur and milk.
Auckland, New Zealand
Minus5′s flagship ice bar is scenically set at Auckland’s Princess Wharf. This is the place to go if you are curious about the behind-the-scenes workings of an ice bar—guests here have the option of taking a 30 minute tour. Since the ice statues here are continuously being replaced there’s a good chance that you’ll see ice artisans at work on your tour. Of course, there’s also plenty of atmosphere to take in hanging out on one of the bar’s reindeer pelt covered ice benches with a vodka cocktail.
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Cape Town, South Africa
Africa’s first (and so far only) ice bar is frozen at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Not far from where you can take a boat to tour Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, you can tour the Ice Lounge and see a likeness of Mandela carved into the wall. That’s pretty much the only hint of being in Africa that you’ll get in this ice bar where snow flake patterns adorn the ice walls and cushions are liberally piled upon the ice benches. The entrance fee of R50 (US$5, €4) during the day, R75 in the evening, gets you use of a parka that will make you feel like Frodo Baggins.
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Las Vegas, Nevada USA
minus5 Las Vegas
Norwegian Cruise Lines’ F3 ships
The next generation of Norwegian Cruise Lines ships, dubbed the F3, will include an ice bar! We anticipate no shortage of “Iceberg, dead ahead” jokes.
Once the F3 ships sets sail in 2010 they will host the world’s first floating ice bars. Each bar will have LED lights that will change between blue, purple, red and green, supposedly approximating the look of the Northern Lights. Walls, tables, stools and glasses will all be made of ice. The idea is to have these ice bars be for calm chilling during the day and for techno beat dancing at night. If sitting around in -8C/17F temperatures doesn’t get cruise ship passengers dancing, nothing will.
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