Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Minnesota ice bars, ice fishing & polar plunges

Grand Superior Lodge's BLU ice bar takes inspiration from the Split Rock Lighthouse. Lake Superior helps keep it cool.
Minnesota dreams up icy frolics & February fun
By Lisa McClintick
Costumes add to the fun of the Pout Plunge that's part of Walker's Eelpout Festival.

Take warm welcome of Minnesota Nice, nip it with winter temps, and you get Minnesota Ice in all its quirky glory.

I used to think cabin fever inspired the more creative antics and winter traditions here in the north, but it's not just Minnesota. Case in point: Red Bull brought its international Crashed Ice championship to St. Paul two weeks ago. Picture plunging down an icy luge on skates with roller-derby demons.

It's always good to have a fresh, heart-pounding or light-hearted twists on traditional winter fun. Here's a rundown on other Minnesota winter festivals and events to celebrate throughout February, from glitzy ice bars to ice fishing fun:

Guzzling icy shots at Chase on the Lake's Eelpout ice bar.
Are you cool enough for ice bars?

According to Grand Superior Lodge's ice sculpting expert Chris Sworbrick, its BLU Ice Bar and Lounge is the longest running outdoor ice bar in the continental United States. It has the added advantage of a Lake Superior location, which offers the soundtrack of waves and a natural coolant to keep the 12-foot sculpture of Split Rock Lighthouse from melting early. 

This year's version of BLU is triple last year's size and features ice chandeliers, a wall lit like the northern lights, ice-carved shot glasses, a bonfire and specialty bar foods such as oyster shooters and North Shore sushi. The ice benches are fur-lined, but probably not the best place to wear a thong without a layer of long underwear. 


Head up the shore, and Caribou Highlands' Moguls restaurant and lounge has its own ice bar at Lutsen Mountains. It's ideally located for ski-in and ski-out options. If you're in the mood to party, there's a "Shot-ski," which is carved in ice and delivers a shot to four people at once.


If you're more of a city slicker, Rochester throws quite a happy hour with its downtown SocialICE. The event, anchored by a 200-foot ice bar plus eight new satellite bars, drew more than 11,000 participants last year. The 500 ice martini glasses sold out in 30 minutes. 


SocialICE runs from 4:30 to 9 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 9, through Saturday, Feb. 11. Live music starts at 7 p.m. 

Head north for eelpout antics

Walker's Pout Plunge into Leech Lake.
There's also an ice bar at Chase on the Lake during the 33rd International Eelpout Festival in Walker Feb. 16-19, but that's only a sliver of the shenaningans during this raucous weekend. The town population swells about 10 times as people throw together Pout City with crazy, comical encampments on the ice. You can kiss a slimy, ugly pout for luck or bragging rights, compete in curling contest, watch a frozen wet T-shirt contest and ride a mechanical ice bull. The event even drew a crew from Jay Leno last year.


Our favorite event is the Pout Plunge. It's family-friendly and hilarious to see what costumes are worn by the brave--and dare I say crazy?--folks willing to jump into frigid Leech Lake for a good cause. Read more from last year's Eelpout Festival feature.

Brainerd's ice-fishing extravaganza on Gull Lake.
Reel in a big one
Finally, for a fun, holy-cow kind of experience, try your luck at the world's largest charitable ice-fishing contest: the legendary Brainerd Jaycees Ice Fishing extravaganza. Usually in January, it got bumped to Saturday, Feb. 11, when winter started with a whimper. You need seriously chilly temperatures to drill more than 10,000 holes into Gull Lake. It's a mind-boggling sight to see. Read more about Brainerd's ice-fishing extravaganza.