Now is the summer of unending sweat, made humid neath the burning sun. Thank goodness for lemonade and iced tea stands cropping up around the city. But when the urge for a truly cold one strikes, it is hard to do better than the original Ice Bar in Stockholm, Sweden, the birthplace of Absolut Vodka.
We donned our wooly socks and fur-lined unmentionables and headed for Stockholms Nordic Sea Hotel.
Attendants helped us slip into heavy cobalt blue capes with idiot mittens, and then opened the door to the airlock (which helps to maintain the interior temperature at negative five degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) between the inner and outer doors. Because too many warm bodies raise the temperature, only thirty patrons are allowed inside at one time. To prevent losing customers to frostbite and premature rigor mortis, visits are limited to 45 minutes.
Despite the chill, few patrons seem to avail themselves of the attached faux fur hoods (Some of us didnt realize that mittens were attached until we removed the parkas, making them idiot mittens squared.) and bar stools were noticeably absent, which might not be a bad thing since everything except the vodka bottles themselves is made of ice, and the image of prying customers off a bar stool might not be good PR.
Lighting filtered through the ice bar and back bar cast an eerie glow, and the atmosphere inside the room is almost surreal, even without the blue faux-fur lined capes.
The most difficult aspect of the experience was holding the glasses, essentially a block of ice with a well hollowed out of the center. Concerned about the alcohol melting the ice, we emptied our glasses as quickly as possible. Entry and a drink cost around 185 SK (a little over $30), The drinks menu includes a range of interesting choices including one that is nonalcoholic. (Refills cost just under $14.) for current information, visit (nordicseahotel.se/en/The-hotel/Food-and-drink/Absolut-Icebar-Stockholm/)
The popular bar, which requires reservations until 9:45 p.m., is closed for about six weeks, twice a year, while the ice bar is refurbished with ice made from the crystalline waters of the Torne River, where the same management has operated an ice hotel since 1989.
Since the Stockholm Ice Bar opened in 2002, others have opened in other cities including London, Tokyo and Milan, but Sweden is Absoluts hometown, Lars Olsson Smith gave birth to it in 1879. Before Smith, known as the King of Vodka, Swedes had been drinking brnvin (literally burnt wine) since the 1400s, but Smith, who controlled a third of the vodka sold in Sweden by the time he was fourteen, developed a distillation process called rectification to make what he called Absolut Rent Brnvin, absolutely pure vodka. The Absolut Vodka site http://absolutad.com offers more information about Smith and Absolut, but if you happen to be stopping by Stockholm for a cold one anyway, you might consider visiting the Vin & Sprithistoriska Museet (Museum of the History of Wine and Spirits in Sweden) on the top floor of a nondescript brick building on the outskirts of town.
Despite its long history and prevalence in the United States, Absolut Vodka was not introduced to the United States until 1979.
So while rivulets of sweat streak your 100 smeared cheeks in Alexandria, close your eyes and think of the folks shivering in the Absolut Ice Bar, so many miles away.
Although Clive Donegal was born in Ireland, he has lived in Alexandria for 30 years.