The last Shanghai ice bar standing
Just outside the Snow Bar, the only Shanghai ice bar, in a cozy space named the Fire and Ice Lounge, sits a tidy row of fur-hooded, ultra-padded North Face jackets that customers are advised to don prior to entering the frozen vault. With summer in full swing outdoors, the idea of zipping up such a thing seems ridiculous, but one minute inside the below-zero bar and you'll be grateful for it.
Stepping inside feels like stumbling upon the secret basement of somebody’s igloo mansion. Translucent walls and tables (made from glass to resemble blocks of ice), glistening vodka bottles lined along shelves encrusted with icicles, and an alternating pink and blue glow give the bar a clean, cool, slightly out-of-this-world feel.
Shanghai ice bar drinks
The Snow Bar at Binjiang One is all vodka; 140-plus varieties of it from all around the world.
One shot will set you back RMB 65-90 -- and shots are all they serve, unless by special request. “We have a regular guest who loves to have caviar in there with his vodka,” notes Gudrun Hellauer-Schwichtenberg, director of operations and marketing.
The bar’s bestseller is the Van Gogh Espresso (RMB 70), which is rich, sweet, and wondrously easy on the throat. The great thing about drinking in an arctic environment, beverage manager Ivan Foo says, is that “the vodka tastes smoother in here. We have a lot of people who usually can’t take a whole shot outside, but they can do it here.”
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Outlasting its peers
The Snow Bar at Binjiang One, which opened in June 2006, is the third Shanghai ice bar to have appeared in the city, but the only one to have survived. While the other two were true “ice bars,” boasting walls and stools and shot glasses made of ice, the Snow Bar’s more cost efficient and comparatively sustainable route appears to have helped it outlast its competitors.
Hellauer-Schwichtenberg admits any sub-zero bar is somewhat of a gimmick. But she adds, “It’s more practical here in Shanghai than many places in the world. We’ve increased the choice of drinks compared with previous ice bars, including one that served only Absolut, so people come here for the drinks as much as the experience.” Providing a wide range of vodkas gives patrons the luxury of choice and an incentive to come back to try something new.
With a Shanghai heat wave keeping temperatures about 40 C for most of August, people also come for an escape from the heat.
Shooting vodka out of glasses made of ice imported from Sweden might sound cool, but at this bar, practicality is key. Not only is chilled glass reusable and easier to manage than ice, Foo explains, but it also avoids the hygiene issues associated with providing gloves to customers, which are passed from one pair of sweaty hands to the next.
Based on patron and staff feedback, the bar’s temperature was also gradually increased from an initial energy-depleting -20 degrees C to a more comfortable -- yet still cool -- -5 C.
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The ice bar crowd
Located in in Pudong’s Lujiazui, the Snow Bar would be a detour on most bar-hopping routes. Its clientele consists mostly of business types dropping in for a pre- or post-dinner shot, but it is also popular with out-of-towners as a stop in the touristy Lujiazui circuit.
The Snow Bar shares a building with the other sections of The Binjiang One, including an underground wine cellar and a restaurant with private dining rooms. Having gone through various incarnations since its days as the You Long Residence, the place today is recognizable by its ivy-covered, chimney-sporting older half that is connected to a newer, almost all-glass construction.
In the blistering heat of summer, the idea of sipping shots in a giant, well-stocked freezer has its appeal -- although in the winter, the appeal comes from being already dressed for the cold. Either way, most patrons tend to stay for no more than 20 minutes. As a result, Hellauer-Schwichtenberg says, “You’ll hardly have the feeling that the snow bar is really crowded like a bar coz they really don’t stay that long inside.”
Although, if summer heat continues to oppress, you just might want to spend a whole day in there.
getting to the shanghai ice bar
Snow Bar at The Binjiang One
Youlong Garden, Shibu Jie, Fucheng Lu, near Huayuanshiqiao Lu
Walk from Lujiazui metro station (Line 2) or, take a five-minute, RMB 2 ferry ride from the Bund and to Dongchang ferry pier next door
+86 21 5877 7500
Hours: daily 11:30 a.m. to midnight