At a new Midtown bar, Minus5, it’s not just manners that compel patrons to use a coaster. Without one, their glasses, made of ice, might fuse with the bar, which is also made out of ice. The same goes for the walls, the shelves, even the chairs. The bar’s co-founder, restaurant and entertainment entrepreneur Robert Sabes, is betting his ice bars are the next hot trend. He opened the first two American Minus5 locations in Las Vegas in 2008.
Last week, Minus5 Manhattan opened the doors into its 23-degree Fahrenheit interior. (That’s minus 5 degrees centigrade, hence the name.)
Inside the bar, a New York motif is etched into the icy walls: the Manhattan skyline; the Brooklyn Bridge; wintry trees that are meant to evoke Central Park; and a carving of the Statue of Liberty. There’s also a “boardroom” for business-inclined New Yorkers, with ice benches covered in faux deerskin. Mr. Sabes was so convinced ice bars were the next big thing, he and co-owner Craig Ling put three years and more than $5 million into the Manhattan bar, which is at the Hilton on Sixth Avenue. Minus5 was a tough sell at times when seeking out locations, said Mr. Sabes. Nobody in the U.S. had heard of the likes of an ice bar. He and Mr. Ling, who opened the first Minus5 locations in Australia and New Zealand, finally talked the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas into housing the first American location. Messrs. Sabes and Ling are “in expansion mode” with Minus5, said Mr. Sabes. They’re looking at locations in Washington, D.C., Miami, Chicago and San Francisco, among other cities.
Minus5 Manhattan’s $20 cover charge comes with a borrowed parka and gloves. For a little more, patrons get a faux fur coat, or, as part of a VIP package, a signature Russian-style hat. While the bartender often dons long underwear and a parka, hostesses wear bustiers, fur hats and not much else. Inside, cellphone pictures are banned, but employees are on hand to take photos, which can be purchased for $20 each.
Minus5 Manhattan fits about 50 or 60 patrons, most of whom stay in the frigid temps for somewhere around 45 minutes. In Las Vegas, though, said Mr. Sabes, a group of Canadians took it upon themselves to set a record and stayed in the bar for six hours.
Even though this is his first northern location, Mr. Sabes isn’t worried about the customers dropping off when temperatures drop. “It’s not the cold that people enjoy, it’s the experience,” he said. Seated in Minus5’s icy boardroom beneath an elaborate ice chandelier, Mr. Sabes watched as a guest in the main room shucked off his coat and then his shirt for a photo.
“For some reason, the ice makes a lot of people want to take their clothes off,” he said.