As another new shopping mall opens in Dubai, the focus is not on the shopping. Becca Wilson catches up with the project manager of the region's first ice bar.
Even though the ice bar phenomenon has been internationally recognised for some time now, it's quite ironic that one of the hottest places in the world now plays host to one.
The developer, Sharaf Group, spent time researching and studying other international ice bars before starting work on the Chillout Lounge around 18 months ago.
"We could have employed consultants for every aspect but it's a unique project in Dubai and difficult to find people who have worked on something similar.
"Outside consultants might not fully understand what it was we were trying to achieve," says Vaibhav Tandel, project manager, Chillout Lounge.
The 1,300 sqft room was built specifically to house a cold environment. Insulation was used in the walls and various structural barriers had to be overcome.
'SNice' ice & melting matters
The largest cost and maintenance worry the bar faces is the refrigeration process. With over 35 tonnes of ice, keeping temperatures below zero is a difficult task.
The blocks of ice, which are also known as 'snice' blocks, are bought from an American company called Ice Culture. They are then packaged in a protective box and shipped over to Dubai.
"A normal block of ice would take around a day to make but these blocks take around three to four days," Tandel says.
Constant refridgeration keeps the temperature in the ice bar at a steady -6°C.
"The bar also needs to maintain a certain level of humidity and moisture because it is being used by people. It's not like storing cold meat," he adds.
Predicatable power cuts can cause problems for most businesses and consumers, but for an ice bar where power use is essential, the consequences can be severe.
In the case of a power cut, a sensible option is to have a back-up system in place that will generate enough power to keep operations running until the power is put back on.
Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) will automatically start if the power is cut off. "We have stand-by generators that take effect within 30 minutes. They will last around eight hours," claims Tandel.
He goes on to explain that it would take around 48 hours for the ice to melt, something Ice Culture agree with. On its website, it states that at normal room temperature ice sculptures will melt around a quarter of an inch an hour. It says it would take more than two days for a 10 inch sculpture to completely melt.
The technology used to help control the temperature is unique and one that Sharaf has had to adapt to suit the bar's requirements. Tandel claims it is better than the building management system used for the Times Square shopping mall where the bar is situated.
"We have our own equipment to monitor the temperature levels on a daily basis. Because it's a very critical operation, we chose to use a separate system, one I believe to be more advanced than the building management system used in the mall," he states.
The system also allows the Chillout Lounge team to monitor the temperature and access information remotely from anywhere in the world. In order to keep the ice looking smooth and polished, Sharaf use a light blow torch. This clears the excess frost that might settle on the blocks, sculptures and decorations.
While customers at the Chillout Lounge can enjoy the unique atmosphere for around 45 minutes a time, the bar's staff spend up to eight hours working in the sub-zero environment.
Tandel says that working for long periods of time in such temperatures is not advisable. "When we started thinking about the staffing, we wanted to make sure they were used to cooler temperatures. With this is mind, we recruited from places like Romania, Russia and Siberia," he explains.
The staff rotate every 15 minutes, spending 15 minutes in the bar and 10 to 15 minutes in normal room temperature.
To keep staff and customers warm, parka-style coats are provided. "The coats are steamed every day and washed every other day. The gloves are one use only and then disposed of," says Tandel.
Flooring and lighting
Another critical area Tandel and his team had to take time to consider was the flooring. "When we were looking at flooring, the first thing we thought about was health and safety.
"A small thing like flooring turned into a huge exercise for us. We had to find one that could not only sustain the freezing temperatures, but also one that would prevent slips and trips," he adds.
With some projects where lighting plays a crucial role in the building's attraction, a consultant is often brought in to help the company decide on the best lighting solution(s).
Tandel explains that again, Sharaf did not want to bring in any external help due to the project's uniqueness.
"We did it all in-house and commissioned a study over an 18 month period as to what lighting would work well."
Tandel chose to use light emitting diodes (LEDs) from Philips to illuminate the bar. The three basic red, green and blue (RGB) colours are used and a study of how and where the lighting should be placed helped determine which bits of ice are illuminated and at what intensity.
"The lighting system we use is a self-programmed one. We input the kind of effects we want, the colours we want to use and when, where the colour should be used and how often the sequence should change," Tandel says.
By doing this, the lighting gives the bar different effects and changes the ambience. There are numerous advantages to using LEDs. Normal lamps emit too much heat to be used in an ice bar and even though LEDs do emit some heat, it is nowhere near the amount needed to melt the ice.
LEDs also last much longer than regular lamps which makes maintenance simpler and less frequent. Their small size allows them to be hidden away to help create more interesting and intricate effects.
In-house vs outsourcing
Sharaf chose to keep the operation of the Chillout Lounge in-house for various reasons, the main one being that they have their own expertise to draw on.
"We have our own team to clean the Chillout Lounge, we don't want to outsource as it needs to be cleaned and maintained in a special way," explains Tandel.
The catering is also done in-house by the Sharaf Hospitality division. The only operation they do outsource is the mechanical, electrical and plumbing work which is done by EMCO.
Now the bar is open and fully operational, Tandel explains that data will be collected over a period of time to determine how much energy is being consumed. If it is using too much, energy saving solutions will be implemented to reduce consumption.
Also, because the snice blocks can be moved around, Tandel says the design of the bar will change on a frequent basis to create different looks.
Tandel confirmed that that Sharaf Group has plans to develop the ice bar concept throughout the Middle East and Africa.