The Ice Bar and Hotel
Anyone who is even casually acquainted with me knows that I love ice. I need ice in just about every beverage that I consume, even in the dead of winter, to pacify my oft publicly derided (and privately renowned) oral fixation. So, when I opened up the tourist guide on my first day in Stockholm, Sweden and saw the Ice Bar, I knew the mothership was calling me home.
Located in the lobby of the Nordic Sea Hotel, the Ice Bar has been in business for nearly two years. Everything in the bar, including the bar, is made of ice. The glasses, the tables, the benches, the walls, the art on the walls – all sculpted in ice. Needless to say it is very gnarly. They keep the room at about 20° Fahrenheit to prevent everything from falling apart, so you are required to don a furry, floor length muumuu with attached mittens before you enter the Bar. I learned later that this outfit is just as much for the well being of the Bar as it is to keep you from literally freezing your ass off on an ice bench. Not only do the specially designed Dutch muumuus keep you warm, but they insulate your body heat to keep you from inadvertently raising the temperature in the Ice Bar and melting the wall that you’re leaning against.
As a visual of this scenario washed over my imagination, it occurred to me that certain people are more of a threat to the Bar than others. For example, with my raging metabolism and higher than average body temperature, I’m like a walking, unlicensed furnace. A couple of customers like me left unchecked could put the Bar out of business in one afternoon. Despite these careful measures, everything in the Ice Bar is replaced every six months. The proprietors like to keep everything in the Bar nice and clear and even with thorough precautions the ice eventually suffers a freezer burn of sorts that makes it cloudy and much less attractive.
There’s a $15 cover charge to enter the Ice Bar, which includes your first drink. I chose the “Absolut Apple.” Absolut Vodka is the one and only sponsor for the Bar, so their name is prominently displayed everywhere. All drinks are served in thick, rectangular, hollowed-out, ice “glasses.” I was so preoccupied with taking pictures that, when my drink was served, I impulsively grabbed it with my bare hands. This is not recommended. Not only is the ice glass slippery, requiring you to hold it tightly, but as you may have guessed, it is very, very, shockingly cold. Being the quick study that I am, I went out of my way to don my mittens whenever I wanted to touch my drink thereafter.
I don’t normally imbibe vodka at 2:00 in the afternoon, but my early arrival was by design. If you are planning to visit the Ice Bar at night, you need to have a reservation, preferably made weeks in advance. The Bar is a hugely popular destination not only for tourists, but also for the Swedes for their hoity-toity, post-business meeting outings and while entertaining important out-of-town guests. Groups are booked in 30 minute intervals. This may seem like a very short time to be herded in and out of the place, but to be honest, once you’ve been in the Bar for 20 minutes and the cold drafts wafting up your muumuu start to take hold, it loses it’s appeal in a hurry. I was in jeans, a t-shirt and sandals on the day of my visit. Even with my freakishly warm natural body temperature, I eventually became very uncomfortable. This was mostly due to me running around without my mittens on, taking pictures and getting sound bytes from the bartender and the other patrons. Once I realized that my toes were turning purple, I finished my drink and got the hell out of there.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning of my education about the Ice Bar and Destination Kiruni, the company behind its inception. I hadn’t noticed during my jubilant sprint into the place, but there was a 10 minute video playing in the lobby of the Nordic Sea that chronicled the origin of the Bar. I cranked up the volume and prepared for enlightenment.
The stunning Ice Hotel in frigid Jukkasjärvi, Sweden predates the Ice Bar in ice-themed destinations. Established in 1989, the Ice Hotel was the flagship to subsequent ice-related enterprises. What started out as a small ice dwelling the size of a large garage has evolved into an annually constructed 66-room hotel complete with a wedding chapel for those wanting to do something really bizarre for their wedding, while simultaneously deterring the vast majority of their family and friends from attending the nuptials, thus saving a mint on the catering. I pictured the moment when the newly wedded couple, snuggling under several sleeping bags, were getting ready to consecrate the marriage.
Husband: “Damn woman! When was the last time you shaved your, oh, never mind. That’s just the reindeer skin mattress. Whew!”
The Ice Hotel gets an alarming amount of business every winter. Again, I love ice, but I’m not so ga-ga over it that I would chose to spend my winter vacation in what amounts to a meat locker over going to, say, Ibiza where I could warm my skim milk-white body in the sun while scanning the area for a mostly naked recipient of my tender, drunken affections. Nonetheless, ostensibly unhinged people come from all over the world to stay, get married and presumably contract hypothermia at the Ice Hotel before the structure is abandoned each April, so that Mother Nature can reclaim it. Then the following winter, they rebuild it all over again. The water/ice in the Jukkasjärvi area provides an ideal environment for the harvesting of perfect, clear ice. When they aren’t constructing the Ice Hotel or manufacturing ice related paraphernalia for the Ice Bar, Destination Kiruni keeps a team of international artists on site for custom made, hastily delivered ice sculpture orders from around the planet.
Even when the Ice Hotel is just a big puddle, the destination Kiruni still manages to draw tourists to Jukkasjärvi with the Ice Hotel Art Center which features its very own ice bar, an impressive collection of ice sculptures and a few comparatively puny igloos preserved through the summer months in a giant ice warehouse.
I would close this story with a paragraph full of colorful quips about how this whole endeavor is akin to high-priced, group masochism if I weren’t from Minnesota and knew full well that if we had a similarly long and fruitful ice harvesting season, some enterprising Minnesotan would have started their own ice hotel out in their wheat field long ago.