Food by VICE

Rio de Janeiro’s First Ice Bar Is Too Cold for Brazilian Drinkers

Rio Ice Bar was built using 130 tonnes of sculpted ice and requires visitors to don huge thermal coats at entry. “No one can manage to stay inside longer because it really is freezing,” says marketing manager Lorena Santos.

by Donna Bowater
Jan 14 2016, 11:00am

All photos by the author.

Given that Brazilians start to complain about the cold when Rio de Janeiro hits 20 degrees Celsius, the idea of opening an ice bar in the city sounded like a dubious novelty.

And with Rio's summer feeling up to 55 degrees Celsius at its peak, encouraging people to drink in suddenly sub-zero temperatures also seemed kind of risky.

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Rio Ice Bar in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro. All photos by the author,

But whether down to the inexplicable popularity of Frozen or the wintry magic of 130 tonnes of sculpted ice, it seems drinkers in Rio can't wait to visit the icy drinking spot.

Opening earlier this week, the Rio Ice Bar in Barra da Tijuca is inspired by similar icy venues in London, Boston, and Prague. It's open throughout Carnival—typically Rio's hottest period.

"The idea was to bring a little bit of cold to Rio, which is a very hot place," explains Lorena Santos, marketing manager of Prezunic, the supermarket behind the pop-up bar. "We see it as a novelty for Rio's summer—a counterpoint. People have had enough of the heat and come here for a little bit of cold."

The bar took a team of specialists and a sculptor in São Paulo 20 days to create, before being transported to Rio in two refrigerated trucks kept at -15 degrees Celsius. When I arrive at the opening, there's already a giddy buzz and an impatient queue.

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Drinkers are given thermal coats before entering the bar.

"It's geladissima! Ice-cold!" squeals one visitor as she leaves, weaving past the line of guests waiting in the muggy heat of a damp afternoon to get inside.

The experience begins in an air-conditioned reception room where staff hand out thermal hooded coats and gloves. Groups of up to 20 at any one time then enter a climate-controlled antechamber heated to 17 degrees Celsius, which prepares the body for the drop in heat.

After three to five minutes, visitors go to the sub-zero bar for a recommended maximum stay of 20 minutes—just enough for the complimentary beer and shot of sake, as well as a photo with the ice sculptures of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain.

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The bar features ice sculptures of Rio landmarks including Christ the Redeemer.
Ice bar-6 Drinks served in blocks of ice.

"Almost no one can manage to stay inside longer because it really is freezing inside," says Santos.

Once through the freezer door, though, it becomes clear that the experience is much less about the bar and all about the ice. Like children seeing snow for the first time, white-collar Brazilians barely touch their drinks as they pose with the sculptures and take photos of crystal ice blocks.

From the polished ice walls to the bar, sofas, tables, and glasses—everything is made from ice and drenched in a glacial blue hue like a polar nightclub. Sake cocktails mixed with peach, grape, or guava, are served in hand-sized cubes of ice. The bartenders have to stop to give their hands a break after serving each group.

And while the freezer sensation is mild at first, after ten minutes, I feel a definite bite in my fingers and sniffle in the nose. On coming out, the return to Rio's heat is overwhelming. My fingers feel like rocks and my nose fizzes. It's like a reverse sauna.

"I loved it. It could be a tourist attraction for the city," says Harley Borges, who was among the first to venture inside the bar with his wife Gloria.

"Some time ago, a friend went to Abu Dhabi and talked about an ice bar there," adds Gloria. "When we saw it was going to open in Rio, I said to my husband straight away, Let's be the first."

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In a savvy marketing move, Santos sold tickets for the ice bar opening with every 60 Brazilian real (£10 or $15) of Brasil Kirin beers bought at the Prezunic supermarket. As many as 20,000 visitors are expected to visit in the next two months, with most of those who have made the trip already seeming to enjoy the experience.

"I thought it was wonderful" says Maria de Fátima, a retired teacher. She and husband Maurício Batista describe themselves as born-and-bred Rio locals or "cariocas," and add that they have never travelled anywhere cold.

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Tatiane Barbosa, a contract supervisor from the neighbouring state of Minas Gerais, went to the ice bar on its first day of opening while on holiday in Rio.

"My cousin sent me photos and told me the bar was going to open," she says. "I was super excited and asked her to go back and find out how to get tickets. I loved it, I want to go back in. It's so beautiful."

Brazilians have always said they like their beer estupidamente gelada, or "stupidly cold." Now, they have a stupidly cold place to drink it.