ICEBAR London’s Head of Sales and Marketing, Tom Hunter talks to Theatrefullstop about what the venue has to offer!

Tom Hunter

London has to be one of the richest cities in the world in terms of the countless entertainment and dining options that are on offer. But how, with that much choice, can a decision be made as to where to go and what to do? Well, ICEBAR London’s Tom Hunter may very well be on hand to make your decision that much easier, as he speaks to Theatrefullstop about the venues unique ice sculptors, collaborating with Sweden’s very own ICEHOTEL and why London rocks!

Hi Tom! You’re the Head of Sales and Marketing for the very forward thinking and trendy, ICEBAR LONDON. How would you describe the venue in a sentence?

ICEBAR LONDON is the UK’s only permanent ice experience, serving cool cocktails at minus five degrees!

Could you talk us through a typical day of being Head of Sales and Marketing for ICEBAR?

I’ve been at ICEBAR just over a year, and have slowly figured out what a so-called ‘typical day’ looks like, although to be honest the whole joy of the job is that there’s something new every day and there’s no such thing as ever having finished when you’re in marketing, there’s always new things you could be doing.

It all comes back to one main thing though, which is finding and talking to new audiences and encouraging them to come and visit. In many ways we’re very much like any other attraction in that the majority of guests are new to the venue, although we do have a core audience who come back to us every year to see each new ice sculpture theme and just because they love the concept and the experience.

In practical terms, I’ve spent a lot of time really working on our social media channels because word of mouth is really key for a space like us. We often get people asking if it’s ok to take pictures inside the ICEBAR, and answer hell yes – I’m actually tempted not to let people out again until they’ve taken pictures of everything and posted them to at least two different social media accounts (hashtag: icebarlondon).

Given I have so many different focuses demanding my attention at any time (don’t we all) the key thing that makes a day typical is maintaining good time management. For me this means making sure to set time to start new things, not just fire-fighting on existing tasks, spending time every day in the actual raw booking data, conversations on social media and inside the bar itself so I know more about what’s really happening and being talked about in the real world and, crucially, switching off my computer at the end of the day as close to zero in my inbox as I can possible get.

Taking pride in London’s west end, ICEBAR London is surrounded by a very rich theatre scene. What sets this venue apart from other potential pre-theatre options?

I actually studied theatre back in my university days, so this is one I hope I can answer properly. The first thing to say is that when people think pre-theatre they tend just to think quick and relatively cheap fixed menu meal, and that’s not really us.

The main reason for that is we want to be an experience for people in our own right, not just a fuelling station, and there’s also the fact that we run timed 45 minute sessions inside the ICEBAR at fixed times, so we wouldn’t want people feeling rushed when they’ve only just gotten inside.

How we do really work though is for people coming into London for a whole day or weekend. For instance imagine you’ve come in for your partner’s birthday so you want to do something special all day. You see an exhibition, maybe do some shopping on Regent Street and then we’re a natural stop off for a celebratory drink mid-afternoon that’s also a little bit extra special and more memorable than a bar or pub.

What does ICEBAR LONDON have to offer?

There’s the ICEBAR itself of course, which changes its theme once a year, and then we also have a warm cocktail bar as well and a newly renovated restaurant serving a seasonal modern British menu.

Right now the theme inside the ICEBAR is Rock’n’Roll, so we’ve got a bar covered in over 200 individually carved ice studs, a giant rock skull that’s about 6ft high and you can get inside, and we’ve also created a fabulously detailed icon of a tattooed rock singer designed by award-winning graphic artist Joey Hi-Fi  inside the ice walls of the bar. This is one of the most ambitious themes we’ve attempted, and so far the response has been hugely positive. Who doesn’t like the idea of taking a selfie inside a giant ice skull!

ICEBAR LONDON is currently preparing for the Christmas season, what can customers expect from the venue?

Christmas is a our busiest period, especially for London audiences rather than tourists, which personally I find a bit weird as the absolute best time to be inside an ICEBAR enjoying a cocktail at minus five degrees is during a typical British summertime in London e.g. sticky, clammy and that weird warm you get when it isn’t actually nice and dry and sunny like it is abroad. A quick post-commute visit inside the ICEBAR at the start of the day is the perfect way to recover from a painful tube journey.

Anyway, over Christmas we’re hugely busy both with individual guests, parties and lots of corporate events. We don’t change the theme for Christmas especially, but we do go all out with a New Year’s Eve party night.

We’re especially popular with people organising end of the year get-togethers as we can help create a proper experience and destination worth putting in the diary when there are always so many different options to fill our evenings this time of the year. Of course, we’re also very handy for the shops as well to sneak in some last minute gift seeking too!

ICEBAR LONDON could be described as being the UK’s very own winter wonderland, with its renowned ice sculptures giving the venue its uniqueness. With various Christmas themed events happening within the capital, how do you engage with customers to promote the venue?

Being the UK’s only permanent ice bar we have both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to engaging with customers in the winter period. The big head start we get is that we launch our new theme at the end of September, so assuming it’s an awesome and exciting theme (as it is with Rock) the word of mouth recommendation can start building nice and early. We also have the advantage that because we’re open all year we don’t have to start from scratch reminding people we’re here all the time.

I guess the flip side of that is novelty versus familiarity, but actually London is such a huge place there are always people who haven’t been to ICEBAR LONDON yet. The main thing for me is that we avoid too much explicit Christmas promotion, and we don’t do as much overt marketing as we do in, say, the summertime, so in many ways we’re quite a refreshing change for people being bombarded with commercial Christmas messages.

Winter experience? Absolutely!

Jumping on the Christmas bandwagon / sleigh? Not so much.

You also work closely with the ICEHOTEL in Sweden. Can you tell us more about this relationship?

We like to think we’re well known, but the ICEHOTEL is truly famous internationally, and while we’ve just celebrated our 10th anniversary they’ve just celebrated their 30th! The ICEHOTEL is built on the banks of the Torne River above the Arctic circle in Northern Sweden every year using ice from the river itself. We use that exact same ice and its one of the main elements that makes us unique as an ice bar. It’s perfectly possible to manufacture ice, but using natural (and sustainable) arctic river ice means that not only is the ice beautifully pure and clear it also has all of the natural fractures and patterns that comes from freezing and thickening and cracking over a permanently subzero winter. What this means is that the ice we use looks absolutely phenomenal when it’s inside the bar, and indeed I’d go so far as to say it would look equally beautiful hung inside a modern art gallery assuming they could get the temperature right.

We also work directly with the creative design team at ICEHOTEL who come over every year for a week to install each new theme. Basically what this means is that they come in and chainsaw apart the old bar (all 40 tonnes of it) take it away and work all day and night to create the new bar sculptures and shape before we open again to the public. It’s a frantic but fun week and you can see a time lapse film of the whole process here…

And finally, how do you decide the ice theme each year and when do you start working on the new one?

So, we just installed the new ROCK theme at the end of September, and that’ll be in place for a year now, but we’ve just started on the very early days ideas for what our next theme can be. We work closely with the team at ICEHOTEL and the first task is always to identify a theme name or concept and then to work on the specific features from there. So, for instance, when we finally settled on ROCK we instantly knew we’d want an epic ice skull sculpture, and more broadly we also really wanted to push what was possible in terms of putting artwork inside the ice walls themselves. To that end this year we worked with graphic artist Joey Hi-Fi, who is most famed for his highly detailed book jacket art, to produce our iconic rock singer character. We could have just reproduced the image of a well-known rock singer (assuming we could afford the rights to a good image) but we decided we’d rather have something that belonged just to us, and we were able to work an amazing amount of detail into the character’s tattoos which are loaded with rock references for the eagle-eyed to try and spot.

At the end of the day, no matter what the theme, our main aim is always to try and create a fun wow factor that will appeal to a huge range of people. You don’t have to be a rock music fan to enjoy the ICEBAR LONDON ROCKS experience, and other themes have included giant ice pineapples, London phone boxes and the whole bar shaped like pop-up street food truck.

If we can create a theme that people can really engage with and continually explores what’s possible in terms of new ice art we’re very happy.

Interview by Lucy Basaba.

ICEBAR London’s current theme, Rock runs until September 2016. For more information on the venue, visit here…

ICEBAR London have very kindly teamed up with Theatrefullstop to giveaway an ice bar and dining experience, for more information, visit here…

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