Antarctica: Home of the Original Ice Bar

A wild bar sustains bored researchers during the long, dark South Pole winter

This time of year, when days in the northern hemisphere are long and sweltering, those near the South Pole reach lows of -100º Fahrenheit or less, and the continent is in the throes of its yearly six months of darkness, according to Olga Khazan’s July 15 story in The Atlantic titled, “On Getting Drunk in Antarctica.”

Each winter, the few dozen workers at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station spend nine months in total isolation: no airplanes can fly in or out until the base "warms" up to -50º Fahrenheit—otherwise the fuel might freeze and kill the engine.

To amuse themselves, workers at the research station engage in daredevil stunts, like running from a 200º Fahrenheit sauna to touch the South Pole while wearing nothing but shoes. They also drink. A lot. Alcohol consumption is the ugly side of living in the "big dead place."

Khazan writes, “A bored, trapped, and cold population naturally gave rise to a bar. Club 90 South was a simple, wood-paneled joint with a hole in the wall opening up to the outside, where the bartenders would put the Jagermeister to keep it chilled. Massive pallets of beer, wine, and liquor were flown in with the winter crew, and they prayed it would last them all nine months.”

There were occasional teetotalers and plenty of moderate drinkers, but for some, alcohol became a refuge.

At Club 90 South, serving someone in a bar until they passed out was sometimes a better option than letting them drunkenly wander outside by themselves.

Says one volunteer bartender, “The most dire danger in Antarctica is always failure to respect the absolutely lethal environment of Antarctica itself. I was far happier to serve until I could guide him (a co-worker) over to a couch to pass out than to see him stagger out into the minus 85 degrees F night.”

This article originally appeared in Expedition News.