Welcome to Five Years In, a feature in which Eater Vegas sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their fifth anniversary.
Noel Bowman was on a trip in Europe when he found the Ice Hotel in Sweden, the inspiration for his Minus5 Ice Bar locations at Mandalay Place and the Monte Carlo. The hotel melts away every year. "We thought there must be a way to make a permanent installation," says Bowman, the president of the ice bar." So we got to work with our engineers and ice carvers, and created Minus5 Ice Bar. It took a lot more engineering than we thought and we had to create some state-of-the-art refrigeration systems to pull it off."
Minus5 just celebrated its fifth anniversary at the Monte Carlo, and since, opened a second location at Mandalay Place, New York City, the Cayman Islands and Orlando. Here, Bowman talks about how he convinced MGM Resorts to take a chance on an attraction that’s a bar, some of the crazy things people have done in the ice lounge and where they find inspirations for some of the ice sculptures that change out every six to eight weeks.
Did people think you were insane to want to bring 80 tons of Canadian ice to Las Vegas?
It took us a year to convince MGM Resorts to give us a lease. No one understood what it was. Just about everyone told us we were crazy. They said, no one would have interest in being cold and that we would be closed in a year.
What made you decide to open a second location at the Monte Carlo? When did that happen?
In 2010, the demand of our original Mandalay Bay location, which had been open for two years, made it clear that we had something good going, so we set out to find a second location. Even more people told us we were nuts to try to duplicate, what was clearly a one-off novelty concept, but we knew we had to try. We always walked the casinos and saw a spot in Monte Carlo that was the old Magic Shop, adjacent to the theater. The casino was just about to start a revitalization of all the food and beverage outlets, and modernize the gaming floor. We saw an opportunity to create a space where there really was nothing before, so we pitched the casino president and made a deal.
You kind of did the opposite of most companies by launching in Las Vegas and then expanding out. Now you have locations in New York City, Orlando and the Cayman Islands. How has the success here driven these new locations?
I don't think the other locations would have worked if we hadn't cut our teeth in Vegas. Our concept was perfect for Vegas and whimsical enough to capture the interest of curious tourists walking by on a hot day. The media really put us on the map as we got tons of free national exposure from celebrity visits, reality and travel shows filming. Vegas certainly paved the way, and the media blitz at the New York City opening in July 2013 was insane. We were being covered not only locally, but also internationally.
What have you learned in the first five years of running Minus5?
Dress warm! No seriously, it was a rough first year as we weren't sure how to staff and market it. We were an attraction with bar and nightclub elements, so finding the right management team and staff to convince people to try it took practice. Today we have it wired and are blessed with a great group of dedicated management and staff who really make it happen every day.
What were you thinking about in terms of design of the ice bar?
We really have a lot of fun with design because we are always recreating the experience every six to eight weeks. It is changing all of the time. We like to keep up with what's happening in town like adding an ice bull you can sit on for a photo during the National Finals Rodeo or recreating the North Pole during Christmas.
Has Las Vegas embraced the ice bar?
The locals love to show it off when they are entertaining guests. We are on a ton of bucket lists and see a ton of repeat guests seeking relief after a hot day on the Strip.
One year in, what changed?
We realized quickly that we needed to run it like an attraction versus a bar with bottle service. We still have all the things a normal bar has but we are able to put more people through the experience as an attraction with bar elements.
What’s the most unexpected thing that happened over the last five years?
Weddings. We have ice weddings all the time and even Elvis officiates. Welcome to Vegas!
How about the craziest thing?
More clothes seem to come off rather than stay on. It’s PG-rated but it's pretty entertaining when five guys get down to their undergarments and see who can last the longest. People actually wake up as we blast them with refreshing cold air and they get back into the "Vegas" mentality. We've been known to get the party started and don’t take ourselves too seriously. We often hear we were the highlight of people’s trips.
What's on tap for the future?
Hawaii, San Francisco, Nashville and Dallas are in the works and we are expanding a sausage and bier concept we are calling New Bohemia. We currently have four New Bohemia locations open in Minneapolis and are looking in Summerlin, Henderson and a possible casino location on the Strip.