Ready for a Cold One?

Copenhagen, Denmark
September 2009

Frommer said there was an Ice Bar in Copenhagen, although the clerk at our hotel thought it had closed. It is a rather unusual concept: a bar where the temperature is always below freezing – in fact 23° F – because everything except the floor and ceiling – the walls, tables, banquettes, and bar itself – is made of ice. As are the “glasses.”

Fortunately, we thought to call, and found not only was it still in business, but, as we saw when we arrived, business was booming. Much of that was from patrons of the associated Hotel TwentySeven who were embarking on the same cruise as we the next day.

Although Copenhageners (Copenhagians? Copenhagonians?) may arrive attired for the temperature, hooded parkas are provided for others who are not similarly prepared,

as well as gloves to assure that one’s glass does not melt before the drink is consumed.

Although the drinks offered use traditional spirits – gin, rum, tequila, champagne, and various flavored vodkas, other ingredients are more Scandinavian in origin – elderflower juice or syrup; blackberry, blueberry, raspberry, or cloudberry purée; and lingonberry juice.

A few rules apply – in a similar manner to fire regulations, ice regulations limit maximum occupancy – in this case so as not to raise the temperature too much – and if a waiting line builds up, patrons’ schmoozing time may be curtailed. We arrived at about the same time as the cruisers – we must have all finished dinner at about the same time. (Notice the woman's reflection in the ice wall at the right. Of course, you can also see the reflection of my flash from the end wall, on which changing colors evoke the Northern Lights.)

However, the crowd soon thinned out. The fact that several came in shorts and sandals may have had something to do with it.

Of course, Flo was in his element, but even Peep seemed to enjoy the ambiance. That's a sculpted ice fish looking over Peep's shoulder – fortunately he wasn't hungry at the time!

CPH is Copenhagen's airport code, and Icehotel is where an Ice Bar first appeared.

They were later joined by an Ice Bar reindeer, with the valiant Nordic name of Magnus.

The idea for Icehotel originated in Jukkasjärvi, located in Swedish Lapland, 90 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The River Torne, arising even further north, is so pure that it freezes crystal clear, from which each winter two-ton ice blocks are harvested for the construction of an Icehotel. However, it's not that straightforward – each winter's bounty actually is placed in "cold storage" for the next year. Beginning in autumn, construction is still in progress in early December, when the first guests arrive, but is complete by the end of the year. When it closes in mid-April, some 30,000 guests will have stayed overnight, another 30,000 will have toured it during the daytime, and Icehotel will begin its return to the River Torne.

From its modest beginnings twenty years ago, the hotel facilities have expanded, initially adding an Ice Bar, then an Ice Church – which is now the ultimate for destination weddings as well as for baptisms, an Ice Arena, an Ice (art) Gallery – and most recently the Ice Globe Theater. In addition to Copenhagen, Ice Bars have now sprung up in Stockholm, London, and Tokyo, and soon will be aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's newest megaship, the Epic. All are constructed with ice from the River Torne, which is replaced each year. And ours were just two of a million ice glasses produced each year – unfortunately, we didn't have a method of bringing ours back as souvenirs.

For those who don't wish to completely embrace the Icehotel experience there are chalet-type, "warm" accommodations. However, in the traditional "cold" accommodations, even when the outside temperature drops below -22° F, inside it remains a "pleasant" +23° F.

Here's one of the cold rooms, the "Dynamic Shelter." Artists and creators from around the world design unique rooms as well as other spaces throughout the Icehotel.

Photo: Ben Nilsson/Big Ben Productions. Artists: Javier Opazo & José Vazquez Toro

When it's time to turn in: "Before you settle down in bed, you get dressed in comfy warm long underwear, pull the hat over your ears and then slide into a toasty sleeping bag on a bed built of ice blocks, a thick mattress, and topped off with reindeer hides."

Doesn't that make you want to hop a plane to Jukkasjärvi?

© Copyright 2010 Jack Ludwick - All Rights Reserved