When we heard that Vivace, the nearly month-old eatery in the River Market, features a bar that has an ice top in its midsection, of course our curiosity was piqued. We had to see what it was all about. The mini-ice rink's purpose is to keep your drinks cold -- assuming you can sidle up to it, that is. Sadly, we could not when we went after ten on a Friday night; a gaggle of arty hipsters had established rinkside-seat hegemony.
We carefully wended our way through them to approach the bar, then had to wait quite awhile for drinks. ("We only had two bartenders tonight. There were supposed to be three," explained one after things had died down a bit.) But even though the bar was bustling, the in-out ratio was pretty steady, so we were able to snag a couple of seats near the ice bar. Once settled, we turned our attention to the martini-heavy drink menu.
We sampled the caramel-apple martini, made with DeKuyper Sour Apple Pucker, butterscotch schnapps and Southern Comfort. It was teeth-gnashingly sweet, so we went for the other extreme and ordered a Rob Roy -- Dewar's scotch, sweet vermouth and bitters. As one might expect, it was fairly strong, with an acrid bite, yet it tasted faintly of cinnamon. Research Assistant Laura stuck with the old standbys and was therefore happier with her drinks; she tried a Godiva almond martini (Godiva liqueur, Ketel One vodka and amaretto, with a Hershey's kiss at the bottom) as well as the chocolate martini, for which chocolate syrup was squiggled in the glass before Grey Goose vodka and Godiva white-chocolate liqueur were shaken and poured on top. "I like this better than the other one," said Laura of the frothy chocolate martini. "It's not as alcoholy."
Because the bar is so new, the character of the place felt a bit unformed. The crowd, a mix of suburbanites, baseball-cap wearers and even a couple of city bigwigs, wasn't very mingle-friendly; in fact, it was downright cliquish. Most everyone there was also checking it out for the first time, and they gave it generically favorable marks. The 125-year-old building was sure done up all nice and pretty; it had hardwood floors, brick walls and its original tin ceiling. A small, flat screen was perched high atop the bar, which made us wish we had gotten there earlier -- we could have not only scored the rinkside seats but also maybe submitted a request to watch the second Avalanche playoff game. Then again, the game might have detracted from the upscale, clublike atmosphere the bar seemed to be going for, as evidenced by the repeating loop of techno that was playing. Another missed opportunity was seeing the "hand Zamboni" (i.e., the squeegee) in action. We'd heard it showed up every 15 minutes to keep the bar surface smooth, but a staff member admitted that the ritual occurs only twice a day.
It pains us to write this cliché, but the ice bar was really kind of an icebreaker when chatting up the other patrons. "I want to get really intoxicated, put my face on it and think about the things I've done this week," Colin said. "I was worried that if I stood too close to the bar, my nipples would show," he added as he drank his dirty martini. ("It's Gatorade for the challenged," he said.) We asked if that was why he was wearing a nipple-distracter shirt -- a cool, cream-colored, retro affair with black and brown geometric figures on it. "Well, actually, I have duct tape on them," he parried.
As we bantered, one of his friends, a trendoid in black satin capri cargos, light-pink pumps with stiletto heels and a black newsboy hat approached. Thinking the NR (who was scribbling notes) was a waitress, she proceeded to give her drink order, which, in lit state, struck us as hilarious.
"She doesn't work here," Colin said.
"Oh, are you exchanging numbers?" asked the trendy friend.
"We're exchanging Friendster profiles," we said.
"Call her Fake-Lo," instructed Colin as Stiletto Heels teetered away.
According to a staff member, ice-bar antics have been kept to a minimum so far; no one has gotten a tongue stuck to it. "There's been some glass sliding and a lot of writing, but I'm waiting for the day someone gets their tongue stuck," he said with a laugh. Vivace plans to have live entertainment in the future as well as happy-hour specials, such as $5.50 Martinis from 2:30 to 5 p.m. "We're not sure yet whether it'll be crooners or maybe some jazz. We're still trying to decide what type of music," the staff member said. Just as long as it's not anything with ice in its title, like "Cold as Ice" or "Ice Ice Baby," we hope.