A wacky addition to any night out, Sub Zero Ice Bar is fast becoming another one of those unmissable Hongdae institutions. Constructed inside a supermarket scale freezer and maintained at a constant temperature of -5C, this is hardly your typical Beer and Soju venue.
It usually takes visitors a few minutes to get hold of their first drink. Before settling at the bar most like to drift around the room taking in the backlit icy wonderland: the statues; the igloo like walls; the liquor bottles buried deep in the ice and the lively, woolen clad barmaids. Some even like to test a certain urban legend about tongues on the more intimate parts of some of the statues…be warned, you wouldn’t be the first! When you do head to the bar and collect your drink, you’ll find it’s served in its own hollowed out block of ice that looks great, but does nothing to quench your growing frostbite. Welcome to the only bar in Hongdae in which you’re likely to order tea!
The novelty value here is certainly high. The icy theme alone is enough of a draw for most, but Ice Bars true attraction is that it goes much further to please. There are numerous photo room style dressing-up accessories for photographic entertainment. There’s a plethora of board games on ice block tables in the corner and there’s a God like statue on the bar through which the heavily padded barwoman pours a whole new style of body shot. The crowning glory, however, is the Iceman challenge.
Enclosed in plaques on the icy walls are photos of those who have reached ‘Iceman’ status. In order to achieve this legendary title, contestants must stay in the frozen bar for a seriously impressive period of time. Challengers are frequently seen huddling together in the corner for warmth, sipping on tea and trying anything to distract themselves from the mad mission they are undertaking. If you beat the record the owners will pay for all of your drinks, though be warned, it’s far from easy.
At the time of writing the mark stands at in excess of 12 hours, and is held by a visiting couple from America. Their attempt was pre-empted by some serious planning: winter clothing from Dongdaemun Market, and several days of mental preparation. In fact, the record is only half an hour short of the bars normal total opening hours, though the owners have promised to stay open for longer should circumstances require it. An early start is definitely recommended for a serious assault. Succeed, and you can leave your bottled ‘pee of glory’, alongside a signed photograph, in a frozen placard in the wall of the bar. That is until somebody else comes along and knocks you off your perch.
Most people somehow resist the Iceman challenge, with the average stay in this icy haven amounting to a little over an hour. The imagery, however, will stick with you for much longer. Ice Bar is an unforgettable Hongdae experience: something that stands out above the endless run-off-the-mill clubs and bars. Remember your thermals, and you might just leave with a story to tell the grandkids.
As published on AroundSeoul.com, February 2008.