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Cold hands, warm hearth

Debriefing Sundance … where else but an ice bar?

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Minus 5 Lounge
Brain Trust

Sunday, January 25, 8:30 p.m.

Just 10 hours ago I was calf-deep in fresh Utah powder, floating over slopes I couldn’t have climbed back up without an oxygen tank, in visibility like that of a steamed-up bathroom. Considering the great potential shock of dropping right back into the Vegas lifestyle—parties, booze, laughing at tourists with their yard-long drinks—I had decided upon touchdown at McCarran that what I needed was a Sundance detox. The Minus 5 Experience and Lodge oughta do the trick.

“When you live here, you just don’t experience stuff like that,” Wingman David (“born and raised”) says, regarding with a mixture of awe and disgust his own plastic container of glowing slushy beverage, the Blue Lagoon. His teeth remain a pearly white, but his tongue is starting to take on an eerie chow-chow blue. I stick to a Fat Tire—Vegas hasn’t knocked the casual mountain air out of me just yet.

Minus 5 is an exercise in extremes, something that really clicks with an extreme town like this one, our weak winter and outrageous summers making an opportune home for the Kiwi-owned business. In the perceived warmth of a glowing, flickering flat-screen TV fire, we relax on robust leather stools at the traditional tavern bar. Above, antler chandeliers and an unfinished ceiling; around, wood-paneled floor, rustic A-frame bistro tables, stone columns, cowhide tiles and woodpile walls.

Manager Dustin Bowsher (ironically, formerly of Ice) helps us into our polar gear: three-quarter-length down parkas, puffy black mittens and, if we want, unisex black faux shearling-lined suede booties. We doff our belongings into wooden lockers, and the hostesses in their white corsets, fuzzy skirts and fur boots wave goodbye as we enter a sort of airlock—only 30 degrees, we’re told. An instructional movie begins.

Ice, Ice, Party

Minus 5 Lounge.

Minus 5 Lounge.

“Feel free to touch and explore the ice sculptures,” the narrator urges, and I conjure images of bachelorettes copping feels of the Elvis statue or freezing their tongues to the wall. But the voice tells us that all the moisture has been sucked out of the room, so there will be no Christmas Story scenarios. But, she goes on, we should use two mittens to hold our molded ice glassware and utilize the coasters, lest our cup become part of the Experience.

The airlock door opens, and we enter the 27-degree (-5 degrees Celsius) wonderland. Well, more like a wonderbar. The tiny triangular room overlooking Mandalay Place’s escalators is ringed by statuary and ice couches lined with faux fur. Ice beads are strung together, and ice chandeliers heft huge blocks into the air. Thanks to a particularly rowdy bachelor party, Elvis has been decapitated and remounted as a bust in front of a colorful Welcome to Las Vegas sign. There’s house music on, and we have the place entirely to ourselves, with the exception of four older French folks and bartender Mike, also “born and raised,” who seems to be strangely at home in the deep freeze.

Two glasses made of New Zealand ice appear. They are shipped in, 60,000 at a time, and held absolutely frozen until the moment our grapefruit and Finlandia vodka hits them. Mike’s bar has a respectable selection of at least nine vodkas and four tequilas. He must change out the mixers often to keep them from freezing solid, and when he reaches for a towel, he finds it adhered to the bar.

Our breath makes no fog in the dry cold. Like my phone, my brain has sloooowed down to where I can’t seem to access the part that handles speech, much like when I lumbered, frozen to the core and covered in snow, to return my rental skis earlier this morning. “H-h-h-here,” was all I managed. Feeling equally eloquent now, we return to the Lodge to warm up and claim our souvenir photos like good little tourists.

That’s about the time the booze bomb goes off, and suddenly it’s party time! I blush a vicious red as the paltry dose of alcohol hits my system all at once. Helloooo wasted! It lasts but a second before my liver gets on clean-up duty, and I manage to sober up before we leave. On the flight home earlier, I read a line in Park City Living: “Every day feels like Saturday.” Funny, I’ve been saying the same thing about Las Vegas for seven years.

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