BUTLER TWP. -- The number of ice bars in the country can be counted on a single hand, and one such creation sits right in this area.
What began as an ice palace for Kevin McDonald's daughter in 1986 has now blossomed into a full-blown frozen bar with spectacular sculptures and many talented ice carvers from around the nation to go with them.
It was a present for my daughter, but then people in the restaurant would look at it and say, ‘That's pretty neat,' McDonald, owner of Damenti's in Butler Township, said of the first ice castle he built his little girl. So then we started building ice palaces, and then we started having competitions and now, for the past couple years, we've had the bar.
The bar will officially open Tuesday evening and will stay open through March 17.
This year's theme is of the Roman persuasion, one that professional carver and friend of McDonald, Jeff Kaiser, was more than prepared for.
I'm thinking of putting this here, as the base of the column, he said as he showed McDonald a picture of two Romanesque faces with very detailed hair that he planned to carve into one of three bars that will be in the building.
Just how long does something like that take?
About an hour and a half, Kaiser said with a smile.
He ran a chainsaw and a conical drill bit through the base of one of the bars with ease after free-handing on a wave design for guidance, never flinching as the ice flew this way and that. In just five minutes he had the beginnings of a piece of art to be enjoyed by all the coming bar patrons.
Medusas, Spartans, beautiful women and shields were among the other designs that have been dreamed up to adorn not just the ice bars, but also to be carved into the 10-inch-thick ice windows.
This year, 100 blocks of ice have been brought in weighting a total of about 30,000 pounds. There will be three bars: a small one that comes in at 1,500 pounds, a medium-sized one that weighs 2,500, and the main bar that tops out at 4,800.
Three-dimensional figures will pop from the windows as well as sit on the bars, warriors and their accoutrements, Medusa heads, and even a throne in one corner where patrons can have a seat and a picture taken.
While the ice bar is visually astounding, McDonald is making sure its use is also practical, a benefit to some local organizations.
We've teamed up with The Palermo Heart to Heart Foundation, sole sponsors of the Beads of Courage program at Janet Weis Children's Hospital. Half of the money made at the bar every night will go to them.
The giving doesn't end there.
The other half of the money made will go to a different charity, McDonald said. It's pretty much that the charity gets paid to come up here and have a party. They provide the bartender, we provide the beer and wine, and the organization gets half of whatever is sold that night, then the other half goes to Heart to Heart.
McDonald is reaching out to several area groups, hoping to put a theme to each one.
I'd love to have St. Vincent DePaul's and offer a free bowl of soup, he said. Maybe do something with a library and say, ‘Hey, if you bring a book you get a free drink.' The possibilities are really endless, and it's just up to the charity to get the word out about the night, get people up here, and we take care of the rest.
Damenti's is open 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday.