The Ice Plant
110 Riberia St, St. Augustine, FL 32084
It’s hard to believe that the gap between a good and bad cocktail has so much to do with the ice. This idea is the cornerstone of the Ice Plant in St. Augustine, a bar and restaurant that is housed in an actual ice plant that dates back to 1927. They carve their ice daily from blocks of slow-frozen filtered water so that their bartenders can make drinks colder and with the ideal amount of dilution. Great ice alone isn’t going to make a high-quality cocktail. First-rate ingredients, including freshly squeezed juice and top-shelf spirits, along with old-school artisan mixology, have made their cocktails something to get excited about, and it shows. The Ice Plant is quite busy, and you can find yourself with a one- to two-hour wait on the weekends―and that’s with hardly any advertising.
In addition to uncompromising quality, the Ice Plant places a meaningful emphasis on local and historical. Ryan Dettra, of Cafe 11 and St. Augustine Amphitheatre fame, was one of the original founders of the St. Augustine Distillery and is now the Ice Plant’s Business Director. He says they source as much as they can locally, “We honor the building’s heritage by buying from the boats that supply the Seafood Shoppe (our neighbor).”
The Ice Plant is a self-described “farm to table restaurant and bar” and is open for lunch and dinner. The atmosphere is surprisingly focused for such an expansive area and latches on to the industrial throwback elements of the original ice plant that once operated there. The team is decked in vintage looks with leather aprons and a lot of denim. As expected, the cocktails have a distinct identity, created around the right ice, the best spirits, and behind-the-bar knowhow. American Outlaws is one of my favorites, with Medley Bros. Whiskey, Meukow Cognac, chamomile syrup, and bitters. If you can catch happy hour (3-6pm Monday-Thursday and 10pm-1:30am 7 days a week), try the Gypsy Tumbler, which is made with Reyka Vodka, ginger syrup, and house-made cola. They also make a mean Old Fashioned.
“Like the cocktail programs, my cooking celebrates the ‘classics’ in respect to most of our flavor profiles, cooking methods, and regional ingredients. Then I’m looking to find a distinguishing southern coastal identity to the food that gives our guests an authentic taste of the area.”
As much as there is an identity around their craft cocktails, the Ice Plant puts that same approach of expertise, quality, and local ingredients on their food. Executive Chef Laird Boles has an impressive resume that includes an apprenticeship under a Michelin Star chef, several awards of his own, and experience on both coasts. He told me, “Like the cocktail programs, my cooking celebrates the ‘classics’ in respect to most of our flavor profiles, cooking methods, and regional ingredients. Then I’m looking to find a distinguishing southern coastal identity to the food that gives our guests an authentic taste of the area.” The smoked fish dip is a delicious starter, and the Frogmore Stew and Half Pound Ice Plant Burger are some of my favorites. You can look forward to weekend brunch starting in the fall.
Chef Boles isn’t sure yet how they are going to put a stamp on the 450th, but is likely going to pair something with the rum being produced by The St. Augustine Distillery. He’s just waiting to taste it, like the rest of us.
As excited as locals can get about the distinctive spirits being produced at The St. Augustine Distillery, the Ice Plant is definitely a place to call their own. It has all of those elements to be that ideal after-work bar, the spot where you always bring your out-of-town guests, and simply a great place to get consistently thoughtful food, cocktails, and culture.