The what? Ice bar? You want to go see the ice bar? What is an ice bar? These questions from my husband.
Wait—you mean this is like those ice hotels I have heard of, where your room is made of ice—but this is a bar made of ice? Well, where is it—upcountry somewhere really cold, like Maine or something?
Right in Boston? In the really touristy area downtown? Well—oh, you already bought tickets, you say? Tickets? You have to have tickets? A timed entry because it only holds twenty-five people at one time—I get it. I suppose if you had more than twenty-five people their body heat would melt the bar, right?!
OK, what the heck, sure, I’ll go. It’s kind of fun, playing tourist where we live.
So off we went on the subway to visit the Frost Ice Bar, which is in the Faneuil Hall/Quincy Marketplace, the center of touristic doings in Boston, and a lively, ever-changing venue for such things as citizenship ceremonies, jugglers, souvenir sellers, food purveyors, political rallies, break dancers, and the visitors’ center of the Boston National Historic Park.
The ice bar, which used to be offices, is on the third floor of a building on the outer edge of Quincy Market. A very pleasant young person welcomed us at the front desk, took our tickets, outfitted us with badges to be scanned if we bought drinks and dark blue insulated hooded capes. “It’s 21 degrees in there!” she said. We said, Well, that’s warmer than it is outside. We stowed our coats and other stuff in a locker, and she brought us first into the airlock transition room, and then ushered us into the bar.
Frost Ice Bar, which cost about $350,000, is billed as the world’s largest permanent indoor ice bar. Every part of it except the floor and ceiling is made of ice—startlingly clear and lovely ice.
Its ice, over 100,000 pounds of it, came from Canada in large insulated cartons. A 20-year old family business in Hensall, Ontario (population 1,000), called Iceculture, draws water from nearby Lake Ontario, carefully filters it, runs it into huge block tanks, and removes any air bubbles. The resulting blocks are then graded for clarity. You can see right through them as if through air.
Iceculture has built ice bars all over the world, including one in South Africa when the outside temperature was 120+ degrees, and one in Dubai, the construction of which had to be directed from a nearby hotel room by phone and camera, since the Iceculture supervisor was a woman—not allowed at the construction site.
Iceculture ice and builders made the walls of Boston’s ice bar, and the bar itself, which is made to look a bit like the Zakim Bridge, a Boston landmark.
Another family business, now in its 4th generation, and closer to home than Ontario, was responsible for the beautiful furnishings and artwork in the ice bar. The Brookline [MA] Ice and Coal Company, founded in 1924, sent its artisans to make the benches, the cocktail tables, and all the wondrous ice sculptures that make the place into such a fantasy. They send folks out to do repairs when needed, too. Unlike other ice sculptures Brookline Ice makes, the ones in the Frost Bar don’t need to be fitted with drainage options, since they never melt.
Goodness, maintaining 21 degrees on a hot day? Doesn’t that use a lot of energy? According to the Frost Ice Bar website, Well, yes, but less than the offices that were in the space previously. The “box” of walls, ceiling and floor in which the ice bar is placed is insulated better than a freezer—about five times better. Last summer, when they were gearing up to open, the cooling system was turned on, and on an 85 degree day, it took less than half an hour to cool down the bar to 25 degrees—and when they turned off the cooling, the room stayed cold. They say it can stay frozen for about a week, with no power consumption.
Of course, it helps that there are only two small round windows to the outside, and that everybody is wearing insulated capes to keep body warmth from dissipating.
A changing array of colored light makes fantastic shadows and glittering patterns of all that we see. There are cascades of large rounded cubes of ice that clink together musically when you touch them. Around the edges there are inviting benches and couches with furry covers, low tables and cocktail tables, portraits of JFK and Paul Revere made with pieces of colored ice. There’s a huge ship encased in a bottle of intensely clear ice. There’s a giant Swan (like the famous Boston Swan Boats) on whose back one can be seated with one’s friend. A teacup and saucer, emerging from ice. Red Sox baseballs, encased in ice. Rows of flickering tea lights, all in ice.
As well as, of course, a bar. We order our drinks from the cheery barman in his blue cape. The drinks on offer are elaborate cocktails with multiple ingredients, including a very hefty amount of alcohol. (There are also non-alcoholic drinks, and kids are allowed in before 4 pm.) I mention to the barman that I have read reviews that comment on how strong the drinks are. Well, he says, they have to have a lot of alcohol in them so they don’t freeze.
Gotcha. I am not complaining.
Holding our drinks in their “glasses” of ice, we sip and stroll around and take it all in. We chat a bit with other patrons. Everybody’s smiling. Pictures are taken.
See? I told you that would be fun. Let’s bring the grandchildren when they visit. They will always remember the time Ba and Ama brought them to The Ice Bar!