"We're going to the Icebar", said BestMate. "You must come."
Don't say this blog doesn't get about a bit.
The Icebar is pretty much what it says, a bar made of ice. It's located on the ground floor of a well-hidden building up an alley in the middle of Regent Street, hence is aimed firmly at a West End clientele. They have an ordinary bar and a basement restaurant, much like any other, but also a room kept permanently at minus five degrees. [Note to American readers, that's Celsius, we're not talking midwinter Chicago]
Why not come for a Christmas drink, they say, and charge you sixteen quid for the privilege. You're invited to turn up 15 minutes before your allotted slot, but five will do, else you'll probably end up in the non-ice bar slipping down a non-trivially-priced cocktail. About fifty people are allowed inside the Icebar at a time, and all go in together, so first off there's a long queue for capes. You didn't think they'd let you freeze in there, did you? Everyone gets a thermal poncho in some sort of polyester, with a 'fur' trimmed hood to keep your ears warm. The overall effect resembles something you might wear while getting an x-ray at an Arctic dentist, but never mind because everyone's wearing the same thing so the fashion stakes are equal.
The Icebar's through a double door... and actually, that's not too cold is it? Minus five's a chilly winter's morning in England, and therefore perfectly survivable, especially in specialist clothing. The tipping point comes with the 'free' drink that's part of the admission ticket - your choice of about twenty cocktails poured behind the actual ice bar while you watch. But don't expect mixology magic, because these are very basic cocktails with one spirit and a lot of fruit juice, squirted simultaneously out of plastic containers with all the panache of a Sodastream. What's truly special is the glass, which is essentially a thick chunk of ice with a well in the middle for your drink. It's both pretty and pretty cold, hence now is the time to make sure you've donned your thermal gloves else your fingers are going to freeze.
So you're in a low ceilinged room with a chilled cocktail, what are you going to do for forty minutes? Well, admire the place for a start. Blocks of ice have been ferried over from the Torne River in NorthernSweden, and then treated and sculpted in a variety of ways. Some are simply ice-benches to sit on and ice-tables to rest your glass on, but others are free-standing ice-sculptures or designs cunningly embedded in the ice-walls. This year's theme at the Icebar is 'food' so all the sculptures have a vaguely nutritional theme, including a giant cherry-topped cupcake and a hollowed-out pineapple, plus a graphic showing which bits of a reindeer are best to eat. All the designers have names like Jens, Mats and Lars, so this is authentic Scandinavian artistry, and it shows.
So you're in a low ceilinged room with a half-swallowed cocktail, what are you going to do for thirty minutes? Well, take photos, obviously. No 21st century human can visit somewhere new without sharing selfies on social media, so a heck of a lot of that sort of thing goes on. Manipulating your phone in these conditions is tricky unless you take your gloves off, but the temperature's not that scary, indeed one member of the security staff kept popping briefly into the room in a t-shirt. Expect each of the groups and parties in attendance to spend several minutes taking photos of one another in front of the decorated wall, or peering through the gap in the ice-pineapple, or grinning with glasses raised, it doesn't matter what so long as the event is recorded.
So you're in a low ceilinged room with an empty glass, what are you going to do for twenty minutes? Well, buy another cocktail, that's what the bar owners hope. By now the photobombing frenzy will have died down, and there's nowhere else to go, so they've got themselves a captive audience. Ideally you should go sit in one of the ice-booth corners and pretend that this is a normal but very chilly bar, enjoying a chat with your mates about the ice or something. This isn't really somewhere to go alone, more an environment in which drinking is more exciting, and you'll need interaction with friends to lift you through the experience.
So you're in a low ceilinged room looking at the walls, what are you going to do for ten minutes? Well that was probably enough time in a cold room, thanks, so maybe it's time to leave early. You'll feel a lot warmer once your cape's off and you're back outside in normal winter temperatures, readjusting to reality. Time to check in on Facebook and upload those photos - look this is me in the pineapple, and here we all are with our hoods up, and where shall we go drinking next? The Icebar's an interesting if expensive distraction, probably best to tick off rather than repeat.