City Paper is not for tourists
Prices are going up across D.C.—housing, cocktails, and now even ice cubes. Reliable Tavern in Petworth began selling clear ice cubes last week. And they’re not cheap.
The prices total $20 for 10 cubes and an insulated bag, $24 for 15 cubes and a bag, and $26 for 18 cubes and a bag. Prices drop if you return for a refill using the bag you purchased the first time ($8 for 10 cubes, $12 for 15 cubes, and $14 for 18 cubes).
One of Reliable Tavern’s general managers, Ben Long, says the 2-inch-by-2-inch ice cubes he’s hawking are valuable because they’re perfect for making professional cocktails at home. The price also takes into account the cost of labor, which is mostly accomplished by a machine, not a person. The bar’s Clinebell ice machine is rather clunky and a bit of a high-cost investment, but it makes large quantities of ice fairly quickly.
The insulated bag for toting the ice home also contributes to the steep price for frozen water. By providing these bags, Long says that he hopes to create an “ice loyalty program,” similar to how breweries use growlers to entice customers to buy beer, then return and save money in the long run.
There’s a Safeway (3830 Georgia Ave. NW) a few blocks away from Reliable Tavern (3655 Georgia Ave. NW) that also sells ice. Beth Goldberg, senior manager of Community & Public Affairs for Safeway’s Eastern Division, says that their ice, while not necessarily cloud-free, sells for $2.99 for an eight-pound bag. While it’s hard to calculate how many cubes each bag holds, Goldberg adds that, “the ice we carry is high quality and ideal for everyday use and special occasions.”
Addressing any possible competition from Safeway’s ice sales, Long adds, “I think Safeway is going to be okay on their ice sales. They make a very different ice cube, I think. I don’t think they’re selling large-format ice. We’re selling a different ice cube here. It’s perfectly clear. It’s large, and it’s … pretty specific to cocktails.”
Reliable Tavern doesn’t go so far as to call its ice artisanal. “I looked up the word, ‘artisanal,’ before, and it sort of applied to what we’re doing, but I have never described it as artisanal,” Long says. “I’m not sure [what the definition of ‘artisanal’ is], but when I think of something like that, I think of somebody carving a swan out of ice or something like that. It’s a little more artistic when I think about it, but this is more functional. This is more of a craft than an art.”
On what to expect for the future from Reliable Tavern’s ice sales, Long says that there are currently no plans to sell to bars or restaurants, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they would turn down the opportunity.
What Long and Reliable Tavern hopes to focus on in the future isn’t their ice business, it’s their bar. “We don’t see ourselves as any sort of ice conglomerate in the future. We’re pretty focused on the bar business, but we can sell a few extra cubes here and there.”
Reliable Tavern, 3655 Georgia Ave. NW; (202) 800-0441, reliable-tavern.com