A couple of years ago, the Ice House Tavern changed. The bar — built into the side of the Arcadia Ice Rink — still featured a window overlooking the rink, and the moment you opened the door, you’d still be hit with a blizzard of icicle-drenched airways. But the remodel transformed one of my favorite dives into a classier joint.
After the remodel, I didn't return. But then, a few weeks ago, the sweltering heat and a touch of nostalgia got the better of me, and I went back to see what the Ice House Tavern had become.
There is exposed cinder block and strings of market lights, now. The tiered double bar setup is more comfortable, and the booths that line the wall lend a sports bar feel. Someone also managed to rid the room of the musty melted ice smell that haunts the rest of the ice rink.
Though I mourned the loss of the wood panel walls, dark corners, and awkward arrangement of dart boards set dangerously close to the high-top bar stools, I had to admit that the updates were nice, and the nicest part of all was the installation of a full kitchen.
The pub grub at Ice House, served until 11 p.m. each night, is pretty decent. Better than decent, even. I'm partial to the Canadian combo: poutine (french fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds) and a frosty Molson. But I'm also a sucker for tots, so I found it impossible not to eat an entire basket of cheese-covered, jalapeno sour cream tots, too.
They have a few beers on tap, and a good selection in the bottle, and during happy hour, from 3 to 6 p.m., it's $1 off both drafts and domestic bottles, and $.50 off imports, making this an easy-to-enjoy pub.
One thing that hasn't changed is the fact that it is the Ice House's proximity to and view of the Arcadia ice rink that makes it special. You have to go outside go into the actual rink, and if you do, you’ll be rewarded with a blast of frigid cold air.
Honestly, it’s not a middle-of-winter-in-the-Yukon cold. And don’t expect to see a White Walker with a frozen sword. It’s more like the weird cold you feel in the penguin enclosure at the zoo.
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I suggest you get in the winter spirit: Wrap yourself in that hoodie you didn’t think you’d see again until December; allow yourself a quality shiver, and rub your arms when you walk in the door; get there just before sunset and watch a rink full of free skates and newbies taking lessons while you have a burger and a pint. As the evening continues, you rub elbows with hockey players coming in for a pregame pitcher or three. Come nightfall, the hockey league game will begin. Order a basket of tots and another round. Pick a team to win and bet a beer on it with the patron sitting at the bar stool next to you. The bar closes sometime after the last hockey game is finished, usually around 1 a.m., and I guarantee that you will leave full, happy, and a little bit cold.
This is what the Ice House has always done really well. It brings you inside, where it’s nice and cool, and transports you to another place and time. It's a better place, a cooler place, where you can escape from the heat, or whatever else you are running from. And now, you can enjoy a hot meal there, too.
Visit the coldest bar in Phoenix, Ice House Tavern (3855 East Thomas Road), from Monday to Friday, 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturday, 9 to 1 a.m.; and Sunday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. (happy hour, 3 to 6 p.m.).