Friday, Aug. 15, 2008 | 2 a.m.
BY THE NUMBERS
23° — Temperature in Fahrenheit inside the Minus 5 Lounge
12 k — Gallons of water required to make ice every month
30 — Minutes allowed before customers must leave because of to the cold. Workers are only allowed to work 45-minute shifts.
$30 — Price of admission, which includes one drink. Two additional drinks may be purchased during the customer’s allotted time.
Get ready, Las Vegas. Expect more scolding.
Prepare to hear yet again from the critics who sneer that our precious town has no business building itself in the middle of a parched desert. It’s too hot, too dry.
The symbol of this wretched excess for many outsiders in recent years has been the wildly popular Bellagio fountains.
They use recycled gray water, but that doesn’t faze the finger-waggers who cluck and wonder what could be worse than a man-made lake that saps electricity to send evaporative jets of the desert’s most precious resource into zero-humidity air.
This might be their answer: trucking ice from Canada and shipping spring water from New Zealand to create a drinking establishment made entirely with frozen aqua — the bar, the seats, even a wedding chapel — and kept so cold that patrons must don parkas and mittens to go inside.
It’s under construction at Mandalay Bay.
So, Las Vegas, get ready to see a lot of sentences in the months ahead that contain the words “ice bar” and “carbon footprint.”
The creators of the $3 million Minus 5 not only realize the irony of building an igloo in the desert, they hope to capitalize on it.
“We picked Vegas because of the desert,” Minus 5 Group founder Craig Ling says. “It’s always great to have an ice bar in the desert.”
And although the first thought in any environmentally conscious traveler’s mind might be something along the lines of “Egads, what have they done?” Ling says his bar is as light on Mother Nature as any other nightclub. All the chillers and the two backup generators that will keep the walls from melting should the power go out are superefficient, and the melted ice from glasses and furniture will be offered up to Mandalay Bay’s potted plants, he says.
Still, the bar will use more than 12,000 gallons of water just to make its ice every month or so. And the air conditioners keeping it frozen 24/7 will be one more drain on the grid.
“It’s a neat gimmick in the desert, but once again it illustrates the excesses that we market,” says Launce Rake, spokesman for the environmental group Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada. “I think that transporting the ice here and the carbon footprint that leaves is probably even more significant than the amount of water (used).”
“It is a little silly,” he adds, “but so is Las Vegas.”
Where there’s a fake Paris, a fake Venice, a fake Egypt, a fake Rome, why not a fake ice floe too? And what better place to defy the heat — or perhaps offer a respite from it — than in the middle of a hotel with a tropical island theme?
Ling says he expects it will draw 2,500 to 3,500 people a week.
You’ll have to check your madras shorts and stilettos at the door, though. Standard-issue parkas, mittens and ski boots — “the latest in Eskimo chic,” according to operations manager Anthony Leenders — are required to survive a chilly (and pricey) half-hour in the Minus 5 Lounge.
Why? Because it will actually be minus 5 degrees — Celsius, that is — in the club. That’s a chilly 23 degrees Fahrenheit, a full 75 or 80 degrees lower than a typical Vegas summer day in the shade.
The lounge will be so cold guests will be allowed to stay only half an hour. (Even employees with special cold-busting suits are limited to 45-minute tours of duty.) The $30 price of admission includes one drink, although each of the 50 patrons allowed inside at a time may purchase an additional two drinks during their half-hour stint. But the only booze available at the ice bar is vodka. And no cameras are allowed — professional photographers will snap shots of guests and sell them for $25 at the door.
The nightspot will also feature an adjacent Aspen-style ski lodge, where customers can thaw out between stints in the Arctic, and a shop where visitors can stock up on mukluks, furry hats and parkas before venturing back into the scorching Vegas sun.
In the chapel, bride and groom will have the option of wearing faux-fur capes.
So, is Minus 5 the latest attempt to out-Vegas Vegas, the most recent example of the avarice of a town that by all rights shouldn’t exist in this unforgiving desert — or just genius?
Perhaps the only surprise here is that they didn’t do it in Vegas first. Ling has opened five locations in Australia and New Zealand since 2002.
The Mandalay Bay location will, however, be the first in the United States when it holds its soft opening in late September, a month with an average high temperature of 95. The grand opening will be in October, and by then the average high will have dipped to a nippy 82.