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North Shore resort's ice bar opens Tuesday - the first day of winter

The Blu Ice Bar opens Tuesday.

This past weekend, 12 tons of ice was sculpted into what's destined to be arguably the coolest bar in the Northland.

Wielding a wide array of tools, including chain saws, handsaws, chisels and rotary cutters, Chris Swarbrick, a full-time professional ice sculptor from Ellsworth, Wis., fashioned 80 300-pound blocks of ice into a bar and an ice sofa, where patrons of Grand Superior Lodge can "chill" over drinks poured into glasses also made of solid ice.

Simply producing the ice for the bar took more than a month. Just any old ice won't cut it for Swarbrick. He makes his own using water filtered through reverse-osmosis. Each block takes about four days to freeze. One of the secrets to producing crystal clear ice is to not rush the process and also to recirculate water with pumps as it freezes.

At his business, Ice Occasions, Swarbrick has installed 17 specialized freezing tanks, each costing about $6,000 a pop.

His ice is so highly prized that he recently sent a shipment of it to Aukland, New Zealand.

Swarbrick also has a $60,000 CNC milling machine in his shop that he uses to produce intricate designs, such as the detailed logos of liquor company sponsors that adorn the bar.

Grand Superior Lodge executive chef Dan Lageson said the sponsorships helped defray the cost of the project, which still required an investment of well over $10,000.

"We wanted to create a unique winter theme for our resort, said Sai Bezawada, general manager of Grand Superior Lodge, located just north of Two Harbors off Highway 61. "The idea was to play with winter and embrace it by coming up with a new way for our guests to experience it."

Patrons of the bar need not be guests of the lodge, but Bezawada said he's confident many people will choose to check in, so they can warm up after enjoying a cold one at the outside bar.

The seasonal watering hole has been dubbed Blu, and Swarbrick sandwiched the name into the facade of the bar by etching out the three letters into one piece of ice, filling it with a mixture of blue acrylic paint plus gelatin and finally bonding another sheet of ice on top.

The bar should open for business at 2 p.m. Tuesday (the first day of winter). Bezawada said initial plans are to operate Blu only on Saturdays from 2-6 p.m. with possible extended hours, depending on demand.

The ice will be lit up with blue lights at night, creating a special effect. And plans call for a nightly bonfire, though not too close to the bar.

Weather permitting, Lageson hopes the bar will operate into February.

The project began modestly but "snowballed," said Lageson, who does some ice sculpting himself.

He explained that, initially, the lodge laid out plans for some ice sculptures, including an arch, for a couple winter weddings it was hosting.

"We threw the idea of an ice bar out there as something new and fun, and people started getting really excited about it," Lageson said. As the project's complexity grew, Lageson turned to Swarbrick for guidance.

"He's the mastermind behind this whole thing," Lageson said.

Blu isn't the only bar of its kind in the state. Swarbrick also has created the Eden Ice Bar at Minneapolis' swanky Le Meridien Chambers Hotel, which is now in its fifth year of winter operation.

Lageson believes the ice bar is an especially appropriate fit for the North Shore, however.

"We wanted to create another destination up here and to give people yet another excuse to get out and explore the North Shore in winter," he said.