A frigid, windy night at the end of a loooong winter seems like the wrong time to visit an ice cave. But with Minus5 Ice Experience’s chic renovation, plenty of city-goers are doing exactly that. Indeed, confirmed Matt Lunetta, operating partner of Minus5 Ice Experience, March is normally the tail end of the slow season for this frigorific lounge inside the midtown Hilton. “We’re packed in the summer, but I think it’s a better experience in the winter, when you’re dressed for it.”
Minus5 is not just a catchy name. It is kept at a constant -5° Celsius (23° Fahrenheit). “Though, actually,” shared Lunetta, “it’s usually more like -8° Celsius.” The thrill of freezing one’s buns off with those nearest and dearest, sipping from a lowball glass made of pure ice, first caught on in New Zealand, years before the brand landed in the City.
The all-new custom renovated interior was unveiled earlier this month, with ice designed and carved by celebrity performance ice-carving artist Peter Slavin, the creative director of Fear No Ice. Among other discoveries embedded in the surroundings for guests to find are four goldfish (not real ones, but similar to the rubber ones they used to sell in gumball machines).
After donning their choice of Minus5 coats, hats and gloves, guests are led into the frozen hideaway. The walls, tables, benches and bar are made completely of ice. Visitors are surrounded by intricate works of art, carved out of ice. Other pieces of decor are encased in clear ice. In the Andy Warhol alcove, replicas of the artist’s Mao Tse Tung portrait glisten; a frosty end table pays homage to one of his 1962 Campbell’s Soup can pieces.
While Minus5 is a full-service bar, visitors can’t get bottled beer (the glass would freeze), nor anything from a tap. Fresh fruit garnishes and muddled ingredients such as mint leaves, also don’t work out well. The specialty cocktail menu includes Snowflake, a cherry vodka and peach schnapps concoction and Iceman, an elixir of raspberry vodka and coconut. Vodka figures in prominently at the bar. “We wanted to develop a specialty cocktail menu that felt more resort-like than anything, with drinks you’d have on a beach,” explained Lunetta. “A play on hot vs. cold. So our specialty cocktail menu reads vodka heavy.”
It’s common not to feel all that cold when one first walks in. The dehumidifying system helps with that, explained Lunetta, as does the fact it’s a windless indoor space. And the clubby music and LED light show distracts from the cold. The average stay is 30, maybe 35 minutes for visitors clad in their standard parka, a solid 45 in the fur coat. “They come in, and think they can handle it and hang out, then they don’t,” said Paul Stavros, the bundled-up bartender who has been pouring the drinks since they opened. Because of the relatively short stays, the flow of customers is self-regulating, said Lunetta. “There is very rarely a line in the lobby.”
Minus5 is a memorable place in a neighborhood stuffed with bars that are considerably less so. The timing makes it a fun way to fill the time between dinner and a show, or for those nights when you realize you’re going to miss your train. Forty minutes spent here is way, way cooler than killing time at Penn.