Sunday, September 1, 2013
Ice Ice Baby
Have we got a new cocktail experience to recommend to all our friends coming to town for New York Fashion Week! Called Minus 5 Ice Bar in the Hilton Hotel, the space is constructed entirely of ice - the bar and seating, the walls and chairs, the doorways and sculptures. Even the glassware is solid ice. (So should we call it ice ware?)
Female staff members who greet customers are as nice and helpful as they are pretty. They also wear bustiers, which must make them popular with the male customers, and probably means they don't step inside the bar too often. This duo was adorable, competent and informative.
They gave us the scoop about all the important facts we needed to keep in mind: while Minus 5 has its own photographer who will take photos of guests ($20 each, 3 for $40), we could take our own non-flash photos. Since drink glasses themselves are made of ice (what a great gimmick!!), they specifically cautioned us to grasp our glasses in both gloved hands and place them on coasters - not on an icy table - lest the glass and icy surface fuse together.
Above the front desk are (left) a photo of a recent group of guests and (right) a price list. A variety of souvenirs can be seen in the back, and black and white faux fur hats are in the foreground.
Management is prepared, knowing that the guests are most likely NOT, especially in the balmy summer weather. We read on the website that the bar temperature would be 23 degrees fahrenheit (that's -5 celsius). Below are (left to right) black faux fur coats, white faux fur, and the Minus 5 parkas. Needless to say, the faux furs (with matching hats above) were part of a luxury package, so we went economy. Unseen to the right are baskets of white rough weave cotton gloves, also graciously provided by management. They thought of everything!
The first thing you notice upon entering the room, which looks like a beautifully decorated meat locker, is the cold, dry temperature. The second is the lighting. This shot of three guests captures the different variations in color.
Visible proof that the establishment lives up to its name exists in the thermometer encased in ice next to the bar which recorded the temperature as 5 below zero.
Because of the intense cold, the bar sells no food, just cocktails and mocktails (non-alcoholic drinks) in glasses made of crystal clear ice. We both ordered Icy Margaritas. Minus 5's recipe calls for orange juice instead of lime, but Valerie persuaded the bartender to substitute peach Schnapps for the orange juice in her drink.
The Statue of Liberty is partially encased in ice at the end of the right wall. Valerie did her best to imitate Lady Liberty, but that blue parka is a dead giveaway. Because we couldn't use flash, the photos are exceptionally colorful.
Here you can see the outline of the New York City skyline in ice. Two previous ice bars are in Las Vegas, so one wonders what their decorative themes were.
While some of the backlighting behind the walls is in color, one source of the changing colors is the large chandelier on the left side in the main room. The crystals, which look like triangular ice cubes, change color, from intense red to green to blue, changing the look of the room -- and the complexions of the customers.
A few minutes after it glowed bright red, the chandelier changed to green.
This detail to the right above the bar includes an ice sculpture of a bird and two metal objects encased in balls of ice.
We were, as always, uninhibited in our joy. Valerie gets into the act with the sculpture featuring a pair of vintage ice tongs, used to haul huge pieces of ice from a truck or wagon into the house to be placed in an ice box. (Raise your hand if your parents referred to the ice box, and not to the freezer.) We wore the striped bracelets because we'd seen stripes on the parkas in the website photos, but our parkas were stripe-free. Good view of the huge white cotton gloves here. They were perfect. We could have brought our own leather gloves, but it's a good thing we didn't.
Jean in her turn tempts fate. And wins! (Remember the Christmas story where the kid's tongue sticks to the cold metal flag pole? Although the lighting is tricky, there is a wall of ice a hair's breadth from the tip of her tongue.)
There was a small private room off the main chamber where a group of blue-clad gents were seated on the ice benches enjoying their chilled beverages.
It was a very convivial atmosphere, and the gents arranged themselves for a photograph when asked. At the left is the official Minus 5 photographer who joined them for the shot.
Here we are with two visitors in the luxury model coats. Among the things we read on the website before venturing over was that we should avoid wearing open toed shoes. We were warned that our little toesies would get cold. So we dressed appropriately. Valerie, stuck in one of the world's largest protective boots for the next fifty years or so, was worried that she'd slip and fall on the icy floor, but we're happy to report that the floor is NOT made of ice (smart management decision!), and we didn't spot a single shard of ice on the floor. By the way, do we or do we not remind you of Bill Cunningham in our blue jackets?
This pair was brave! No hats! Coats open! Open toed shoes!
Right in the center of the room was a huge column of ice with a convenient ledge for drinks (with coasters, of course!).
Before we left, we said our goodbyes to our bartender. The room went through the full spectrum of colors while we were there (20 minutes? 30 minutes?). One of the colors was arctic white, but we caught him at the darker end of the cycle.
On the way in and out of the bar is a sort of decompression chamber. It helps keep the warm air from the lobby from blasting into the space every time someone enters or leaves. It was painted to resemble the sea under a layer of ice.
We played a little game of dueling cameras. Jean was NOT using flash here - we obeyed the rules (they were holding Valerie's credit card hostage, so we took no chances). To the naked eye in real time, that's a very small red light, but if it's true the camera doesn't lie, maybe that light gets big (and a bit yellow!) for an instant too brief for the human eye to grasp. But not too brief for our simple digitals!
Do not attempt this at home! We found out the hard way that, besides our eyeglasses fogging up when we emerged from the bar into normal temperatures, our camera lenses (internal and external) also fogged up. As you can see from Jean's shot of Valerie, taken nearly 10 minutes after departing the cold room, her camera still had evidence of heavy fogging. While it makes Valerie look positively angelic (ha!), it worried the heck out of both of us. (The Minus 5 website warns that digital equipment might be affected, and helpfully offers to hold anything you like in small lockers by the reception desk.) Jean's camera didn't fully normalize until about fifteen minutes later, but luckily everything worked out just fine. Oh, we of little faith (and big fun)...