Visiting the new ice age at St. Augustine’s Ice Plant

Playground Earth Ice Plant

The Ice Plant continues a decades long tradition of making ice, only now it winds up in craft cocktails, not on shrimp boats, trucks or rail cars.

St. augustine, florida


Although Florida Power and Light no longer occupies the massive building on Riberia Street and ice making has long been replaced by modern refrigeration, our visit to the historic Ice Plant revealed that the talented mixologists are keeping the storied history of ice-making alive. 

On the western edge of a neglected neighborhood not far from the hustle and bustle of historic St. Augustine sits a massive, decades old concrete building. Originally built as a power plant in 1905 it was subsequently transformed into Florida’s first power and ice complex in 1907. Ten years later further expansion took place turning the enterprise into the first facility in Florida to produce commercial block ice.

Riding on the coattails of Florida’s booming shrimp and fishing industry the Ice Plant continued to expand production. In 1926 the newly formed Florida Power & Light conglomerate purchased the complex and expanded once again, increasing ice-making capacity from 65 to 125 tons. A massive overhead bridge crane moved ice to rail cars, boats and trucks behind the building while smaller quantities were broken up and sold to residents out front. Needless to say, in the days before electric refrigeration, ice was a valuable household necessity.

Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Antique Ice Hooks

Today the Ice Plant, along with the adjoining St. Augustine Distillery, is an enormously popular bar, restaurant, tasting room and retail store occupying the two story space which sat empty or underutilized for nearly 60 years. Were it not for the massive, weathered sign at the edge of parking lot it would be easy to mistake this behemoth of a building for just another vacant warehouse waiting to be demolished or turned into condos.

On our recent (and first) trip to St. Augustine a visit to the Ice Plant was high on our list of places to dine and imbibe. We had originally planned to have dinner on the first night of our stay so we decided to scout out the location in the afternoon thus making it easier to find come dinner time. 

Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Table for Four

The moment that we stepped inside and saw the massive wooden staircase leading to the second floor and the numerous original floor-to-ceiling windows along with the lively sound of patrons enjoying themselves we quickly realized that we needed to stay for lunch. We could always return for dinner if lunch went well!

With light streaming in from the large second story windows we settled into our table for what proved to be one of the best meals we have experienced in some time. Not only were the “Rosie the Riveter” inspired waiters and suspender clad bar staff cordial to a fault but the food was textbook farm-to-table…simple and delicious in its preparation and presentation. Our lunch trio of smoked fish dip, shrimp ceviche and grilled shrimp was especially noteworthy for its freshness and photogenic presentation.

Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Shrimp Ceviche
Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Grilled Shrimp with Dirty Rice
Sitting at our table it was hard not to notice the amount of historic details held over from days gone by. The original bridge crane on rails over the bar was left intact and the walls, ceiling and floors were stripped of any previous embellishment to respectfully bring back the past in the most authentic way. From the zinc topped tables, exposed ductwork and electrical conduit to the various artifacts from the “ice age” the owners have created a distinctive space to linger and enjoy a slice of Florida’s history.
Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Original Timer with Bottles
Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Vintage Sign with Toy Horse

Being fans of all things preservation…from abandoned rail beds converted to bike/hike trails to the repurposing of derelict buildings, warehouses and churches, we were impressed by the level of restraint used to not “prettify” this once hardscrabble building. Attempting to make it anything other than what it was…a power plant and ice making facility…would have been a travesty to its original purpose. Thankfully, the partners chose the high road in their decision to honor the past and the end result works in spades.

Their laudable instincts not only worked to their advantage when it came time to persuade the numerous stakeholders (city fathers, investors, the community and preservationists) to allow the project to go forward but also to the advantage of legions of sharp-eyed patrons who seek out thoughtfully well preserved architecture and unique one-of-a-kind spaces to enjoy an afternoon or evening with friends.

Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Getting a Lesson in Mixology

Attached to the Ice Plant Bar is the St. Augustine Distillery which was founded in 2013 by 20 local families. Their mission is to provide patrons with world class spirits using only local agriculture. Working with various farming partners the St. Augustine Distillery is the embodiment of a growing farm-to-bottle movement across the country. The St. Augustine Distillery is widely regarded as one of the most popular craft distilleries in the country and offers self guided tours from 10:30 to 5:30 seven days a week.

Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l St. Augustine Distillery
The Ice Plant and St. Augustine Distillery check all the boxes that preservationists (the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places), architecture buffs, lovers of good food and craft cocktail aficionados deem worthy of their time and curiosity. Throw in intrepid tourists, students from the nearby college and thirsty locals dedicated to supporting their community and the growing success of the Ice Plant Bar and St. Augustine Distillery is easy to understand.
Playground Earth Ice Plant
PGE l The Ice Plant l Ice as Art