Sunday, August 19, 2012

4 Things I Learned About Vodka While Freezing My Ass Off in Bangkok

I think I may finally have found an exception to my "I'll do anything twice" motto. But I'm not 100 percent sure. I'm pretty hungover, maybe even still a little tipsy, so I'm not thinking too clearly. At the moment, however, "Drinking vodka while risking frostbite" is officially on my list of things I never need to do again.

Last night when a friend invited me to go to Ice Bar at Holiday Inn Silom, I didn't know what to expect. I was pretty sure that this time, unlike our previous adventure in concept drinking in Bangkok, there'd be no one having sex on a stage in front of me while I was trying to hold my liquor. It would be far too cold for exposing one's public appendages, let alone private ones!

My first impression when I showed up at the hotel was shock: I already knew that Holiday Inns in Asia are five-star-caliber, compared to the ones in the U.S. and London, which are just a step or two up from a cheap motel, but this was some grand hotel. I would have been perfectly happy to spend all night sipping cocktails in the lobby.

Then there was Ice Bar, one floor below ground level, tucked away in the corner of a huge Irish-style pub. For 500 baht (roughly $17), you spend 20 minutes inside the bar, which is cooled to a frigid 5 below (Celsius), while drinking all the shots of vodka your body can handle. The staff provides hooded winter coats and mittens but no chasers.

Not that you need chasers. The shots weren't pure vodka, as I'd assumed they would be -- which is one of the reasons I was sort of shaking in my boots before entering the freezer -- but rather sweet vodka concoctions. With the exception of the lemon-flavored one, they were delicious, especially the raspberry, which tasted vaguely like Robitussin. But like all fruity booze, they were dangerous, too. Who knew something so sweet could be so lethal?

I was actually ready to bolt after five minutes, not so much because I felt thoroughly wasted (and I did), but because I couldn't handle the freezing temperature, which felt far worse than anything I can recall during my 15 years living in NYC. But I sucked it up and stuck it out for 20 minutes and at least as many shots. I'm glad I did, because ultimately, Ice Bar was an enlightening experience. Who said you can't learn anything while drinking too much?

1. Absolut vodka can get you as drunk on an Arctic tundra as in a tropical rainforest. Before I went to Ice Bar, I did some online research and read somewhere that due to the cold temperature, I probably wouldn't feel the effect of the vodka until I stepped outside back into the balmy Bangkok nighttime air. So wrong. Maybe it had something to do with my tolerance being at an all-time low since I often go weeks without drinking a drop of booze, but after the first shot, I can distinctly remember my head feeling like it was beginning to leave my body. I couldn't feel my fingers either, but for an entirely different reason. Once outside, I felt the opposite of how I was supposed to feel: sober as a judge -- and sleepier than a bored one presiding over petty cash disputes in small-claims court.

2. Vodka can put you to sleep. By the time we were standing in the middle of DJ Station 15 minutes later, I was overcome with exhaustion. Had there been a couch near the bar, I would have been fast asleep on it.

3. Thais don't love their vodka. Or maybe they'd just rather not drink it on ice (the shot glasses were made of frozen water). Or perhaps the idea of an ice bar in the middle of Bangkok is something only a foreigner could love (though the two guys I went with were both born and raised here). The only other people in the place were tourists, including a gaggle of Australians who had dressed way down -- in shorts and flip flops! -- for the occasion.

4. Vodka and water mix. Either vodka has special H20-altering properties, or I've spent years avoiding sucking on ice in below-freezing temperatures for no reason. I'm going to blame my ignorance here on the fact that I somehow managed to graduate from both high school and college without ever once stepping foot into a chemistry or physics class (which isn't quite as shocking as my college-grad ex who once told me he'd never in his life read a book, but I digress).

For some reason, I always thought that lips connecting to frozen water would stick to it, but no such thing happened when we drank from the shot glasses. Their iciness made for slippery handling when grabbing them from the tray (which was not made of ice), but they also added to the wow-we're-getting-loaded-in-a-freezer-while-it's-90-degrees-outside novelty. It was fun while it lasted, but in the future, I think I'll enjoy my vodka the way God intended -- chilled, not freezing.
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