Ice, ice, baby … winter has arrived and has already brought freezing temperatures and a January snowfall. Will there be another snowmageddon, snowpocalypse or snowzilla this year? Only time will tell.
For those who love the snow and ice, it’s the most wonderful time of the year — a few inches of the white stuff, the federal government shuts down and the National Mall turns into a winter wonderland.
While building snowmen and making snow angels can make for a delightful day, where is the ideal place for chionophiles (people who love cold winter conditions) to go for a night on the town?
The DMV has a choice of bars with outdoor spaces open through the chilly season. They often come with heat lamps, blankets or fire pits to ward off the chill. A recent trend has been heated faux igloos, which popped up at the Watergate and the Georgetown Four Seasons in 2018.
But for the extremists, a visit to a bar actually crafted from ice, top to bottom, would be their cup of (iced) tea. Adorned with ice sculptures, these establishments, part lounge, part gallery, are like frozen dreams, with ice walls, furniture and glasses.
The world’s first ice bar pooped up in a logical place, above the Arctic Circle in Jukkasjãrvi, in the far north of Sweden. Icebar was launched in 1994 as an extension of Icehotel, which opened its doors in 1989. Designed by a different artist each year, they are both rebuilt annually from snow and ice from a nearby river.
For obvious reasons, the concept spread first in colder climates such as Lapland, Finland and Quebec. It’s easier to keep the ice stable in frigid temperatures and avoid a Frosty the Snowman meltdown. But thanks to modern refrigeration, ice bars began to spread farther south in Europe to Prague, London, Amsterdam and Paris.
These frosty taverns became a novelty and started attracting tourists. Today you can find them worldwide year-round — in Boston, Hong Kong, Las Vegas and even in the bustling Middle Eastern hub of Dubai, the home of the world’s first indoor ski resort.
The thought of drinking in an ice bar has always made me cringe. It brings back college memories of going out at Syracuse University, located in the snow capital of the U.S. But last summer, during a holiday in Budapest, I walked by an ice bar on a particularly sweaty day. I had spent the previous day at a beer spa bathing in a lager-filled bath with a personal tap, followed by a hoppy body scrub. So why not a stop inside for a quick cool down?
Entry was free with the purchase of drink tickets. I was first led into an interior hallway, where I was told to enter a room with thick plastic panels, like the ones at the entrance to a beer distributor’s cooler. Here, I was given a floor-length hooded poncho with thermos insulation and a pair of gloves. The weight of the coat felt heavy on my shoulders as I slipped it over my summery sleeveless top.
Next, I was directed through another passage to a room glowing with pink and purple lights — their gleam dancing across the glistening ice that coated everything in sight. According to the bar’s website, the sculptures are forged from 35,000 liters of water.
The atmosphere was rather psychedelic, with sculptures of leafless trees and rock musicians. I found myself sitting next to an icy bust of Jim Morrison.
I looked around to see other tourists mingling among the elaborate carvings. A group of backpackers were doing shots that were poured down an ice luge in the shape of a woman’s bust.
The menu consisted mainly of shooters, most with vodka and fruit juices and a few with pálinka, a native Hungarian spirit. Many had cutesy names such as “Reindeer Viagra,” “Eskimo Kiss” and “Don’t Touch My Snowball.”
Perhaps the most unique gimmick was that all the drinks were served in glasses molded from ice. There was absolutely no chance of your drink getting tepid. As my entrance fee came with four drink tickets, I decided to start sampling (I was already feeling nippy from admiring the ice art).
I started with a concoction called “Ice Flower Drops,” featuring vodka and passion fruit. It was definitely on the sweet side, reminding me of an adult version of a frozen treat from D.C.’s Pleasant Pops. Next came “Melted By Love,” with flavors of elderflower liqueur, orange and raspberry. The taste was potent, but it didn’t melt my heart or anything else in my body, which was starting to get the chills.
I moved on to one called “Global Warming,” also with vodka and raspberry; it certainly didn’t heat up any of my globes. By the time I got around to the fourth shot, I was shivering, so it seemed appropriate to chug down a “My Frozen Ice Balls.” This vodka, cherry, watermelon and lychee combo was as cloying as a Jolly Rancher. It was time to make a run for the thick summer air.
It would be quite impractical to replicate this experience at home, but you could enjoy some of the fun. Molds to make ice shot glasses can be found online and ice luges can be ordered from companies in the Washington area. Of the four libations I sampled, I was partial to the “Global Warming,” which had a tart taste like raspberry lemonade.
1 oz. Vodka
1 oz. Triple Sec
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1/2 oz. Raspberry Syrup
Serve in an ice glass.