Baby, it's cold inside Las Vegas vodka bar Minus 5

 
LA Times | Travel
 

Nathan Kaye doesn't need to check the weather forecast before getting dressed for work. Regardless of whether it's going to be 60 or 110 degrees, he pulls on ski boots, a winter parka and gloves. Even then, within minutes of starting his shift, his ears and his nose are bright red. \"They're n...

By Jay Jones // 11.05.08
 

Nathan Kaye doesn't need to check the weather forecast before getting dressed for work. Regardless of whether it's going to be 60 or 110 degrees, he pulls on ski boots, a winter parka and gloves. Even then, within minutes of starting his shift, his ears and his nose are bright red.

"They're numb," Kaye says with a laugh as he pours ice-cold vodka into a glass made of ice and sets it atop the bar, which is also made of ice. A customer takes her drink to a nearby couch, also carved out of ice.

Welcome to Minus 5, the newest and, literally, the coolest bar on the Vegas Strip. Guests must don heavy coats and mittens -- they're provided -- before entering what is essentially a giant freezer in which the temperature is kept at minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Celsius term is used in New Zealand, where Craig Ling opened his first Minus 5 bar six years ago in Auckland. Since then, he has added sites in Australia and Portugal. Vegas is his first venture into North America.

"What's better than having an ice bar in the middle of the desert? It's a good novelty," Ling says of his newest pub, which opened in late September in Mandalay Place, a mall that stretches between the Mandalay Bay and Luxor resorts.

Guests pay $30 for a 30-minute visit. "It does get cold after a while," Ling says. The admission price includes one drink. There are nonalcoholic choices for children.

During a visit with a girlfriend, Kristi Ritchie of Las Vegas sips a Finlandia Eskimo, a concoction including pomegranate and lime juices, Cointreau and vodka. "It's really, really cool," she says, ignoring the obvious pun. "We wish we could stay here a bit longer, but not everybody's accustomed to the cold. I'm from Wyoming, so I'm used to it."

Michelle Gookin of Escalon, Calif., near Modesto, likes this newest Vegas diversion. "I always wanted to stay in an ice hotel, so this is probably the closest I'll ever come. I come to Las Vegas a lot. I'm always looking for something different to do, and this is definitely different.

"It's amazing to me. You'll never find anything in Vegas that's done halfway."

Kaye, despite his beet-red nose and ears, enjoys tending bar in the freezing environment. First, he's from northern Nevada, so he's used to the cold. Second, he gets warmup breaks in the lobby every 30 to 45 minutes. Or at least he's supposed to.

"On really, really busy nights when it's filled and there are people waiting, we might be here [at the bar] for up to five hours at a time," Kaye says. "But it doesn't really faze me, because it really doesn't feel that cold in here. The atmosphere picks you up and you're moving all the time."

It took about 150 giant blocks of ice, each weighing 265 pounds, to create the unique attraction. "All the ice is made in Canada," says general manager David Kuhn. "They have a process where there's no impurities, bubbles or anything like that. So when it settles in the room, it's as clear as glass."

Those blocks are also used to create giant ice sculptures. An oversized carving of Elvis, guitar in hand, graces the center of the room. It's a popular spot for pictures. Those photos are taken by a staff member and are for sale upon leaving the bar; personal cameras are not allowed.

Not everyone is enamored with the frigid conditions.

"It's freezing," says Julie LaCoste, who's visiting from Albuquerque and grasping her icy glass of vodka between mitten-clad hands. "My lips are moving too slow for me to talk. I'm not good with cold.

"It's a good thing to try once, but probably not again."

Minus 5 is open 10 a.m. until 3 a.m. daily; (702) 632-7714 www.minus5experience.com.

Jones is a freelance writer.