Carving the Samoset’s Glacier Ice Bar and Lounge

It takes 15,000 pounds of ice to make one ultra-cool ice bar

January 16-19 and 23-25
Fri, 12/26/2014 - 10:45am

You would think, growing up in Boothbay Harbor, the Samoset Resort’s Executive Chef and resident ice carver Tim Pierce would be like this Paul Bunyan kind of guy who juggled chainsaws before he got into ice carving. Surprisingly — nope!

He didn’t even know how to use a chainsaw until he attended the Culinary Institute of America.

"They gave me some ice to carve and a couple of hours to come up with a design," he recalled. "And it was just enough to get me interested. So, the first chance I got after graduating to work for a company as a chef that needed an ice carver, I said 'I'll try it.'”

For the last two years, the Samoset Resort in Rockport has dedicated two weekends in January around the Glacier Ice Bar and Lounge, which Pierce and his team create. This winter, they bring back the event Jan. 16-19 and Jan. 23-25.

“The first year we did this, it totally blew us away how busy it was,” said Pierce.

It was such a novelty that 700 to 800 people were heading to the Samoset each night to see the bar. Cars were parked all the way back to Route 1.

Ocean Properties, the corporation that owns the Samoset Resort, happens to have a bevy of ice carvers on staff, Pierce among them. These same ice carving chefs will be among Pierce's team when approximately 50 ice blocks (that's 7.5 tons!) are delivered from New Hampshire five days before the Glacier event.

"The hardest part of it is that the ice is heavy,” he said. “We try to use as many people to share the load as possible when building the bar.”

They use hand trucks and a fork lift to load and unload the blocks on the back deck of the Samoset’s Enoteca Lounge.

To carve with a chainsaw, one must be very careful and precise.

"Ice is still dangerous to carve, but not as dangerous as wood because you don't have the kickback," he said.

Still, there is a lot to it — "tricky from the get go,” said Pierce.

The temperature has to be just so. If it's too cold (below 10F), the ice gets too brittle and cracks. If it's too warm (above 35F), it slushes.

"There's a pretty small window we have leading up to the event to carve," he said. "Once we've got it the way we want it, we tarp it off with a special insulating blanket, sort of a foil-covered bubble wrap and protect it from the sun, rain and wind."

They use include chisels, picks, industrial sanders and die grinders. One of the tricks of the trade is to get a flat sheet of aluminum and heat it up. It melts the surface of ice perfectly smooth. Adding droplets of water acts as the adhesive, allowing two blocks to form an ice bond.

Anyone who has seen his fanciful ice bar designs in the past can see how much artistry goes into all of the pieces — the bar itself, the ice chairs and seating areas, the ice “poster board” cut outs like his signature “Drunk Snowman,” even down to the ice shot glasses they use for the Luge.

Pierce sketches everything to scale on graph paper.

"It's a big puzzle,” he said. “You cut the ice up in a thousand little pieces than assemble back together. One of my thoughts for this year is to incorporate the glacier look into the ice with more rugged cracked pieces and incorporate some of the blue ice aspect."

Pierce puts in about 100 hours during the first week. At 5 p.m. when the crowds show up, he goes back into the kitchen and puts in a full night. At the end of that first weekend, he then heads to the Samoset's sister resort, the Sagamore at Lake George, and assembles an entire ice bar for them, as well.

"Definitely I'm ready for a day off when it's all over," he said.

Along with the ice bar, specialty drinks and bites, the family-friendly event will have more lighting around the public ice skating rink, more seating areas and more selfie photo ops. This is a definite “put on your calendar” event for the winter. Because like Frosty The Snowman, when this baby heats up, you’ll be bellying up to a pile of slush.