4242 Six Forks Road, #100, Raleigh


“Are you ready for your ice show?”

I glance up from my iPhone as Megan Barie approaches me, balancing a tray with a single empty tumbler, a towel, a two-inch-by-two-inch cube of ice, and a large stainless steel cylinder. 

I’m seated alone at a high-top shortly before eight o’clock last Thursday, with a just-arrived second drink: an ice-cold mezcal Negroni devoid of any trace of ice. This is STIR, a new restaurant and oyster bar concept featuring craft cocktails with artisan ice—a thing now, I suppose—in the hub of developer John Kane’s North Hills, where the buildings are tall and the parking is free. 

A thunderstorm had just passed, and though the chaos of happy hour had subsided, the 283-seat restaurant was still full and on a waitlist. STIR, which had opened three days earlier, will go through six hundred pounds of ice and sell upwards of eight hundred house oysters in a day. 

Barie, the trainer from STIR’s flagship in Chattanooga—this is the second STIR, and more are in the works—asks me to slide the empty plate of Harkers Island oysters I’d just housed out of the way. (The oysters were very salty and very fresh and, yes, very cold.) 

“This is actually really heavy,” Barie says. 

She sets the tray down and, with focus and precision, picks up the cube of ice with a pair of tongs and places it into the cylinder. It slips. Barie is concerned. She activates the cylinder, a small compression device that presses the square pegged cube into a round mold that starts at room temperature and finishes at freezing. 

I watch the ice melt for several minutes. (Really, I did this. People do this. They aim for twenty-five ice shows a night, general manager Chris Brett tells me.) 

Barie is concerned that it may not work, that there may be impurities, especially after the slip—air bubbles trapped in the ice that taint its complexion. When she reopens the cylinder, the crown of a crystal-clear sphere is revealed. She removes the sphere with tongs and shows me the upside-down reflection of the bustling restaurant on its surface, much like the Chicago Bean. 

She’s disappointed by two small impurities in the ice. She places the sphere into the clear glass tumbler so I can watch it not melt. Cloudy, “impure” ice melts faster. Watching crystal-clear artisan ice melt is like watching grass grow. 

It is 7:53 p.m. Watching the ice not melt is part of the show.

There are seven different types of ice at STIR. Each one serves a different purpose related to the type of cocktail or the type of liquor, of which there are three hundred available at the bar: rare Japanese whiskeys, cordials and vermouths, high-end cognacs, and, of course, a well-curated selection of Southern bourbons. 

Leading up to the launch, Kane’s North Hills kingdom had been plastered with flyers advertising the new location. That, combined with a diverse, “made-from-scratch” menu that ranges from a raw bar to Peruvian ceviche to a spicy tuna burger, as well as an attractive list of Instagram-worthy drinks poured over artisan ice, had generated, well, quite a stir well before the doors even opened. 

“We’ve probably gone through thirty-six hundred pounds of ice in eight days,” Brett says. That’s almost two blocks a day. 

Those blocks are three hundred pounds each, made in an industrial-grade Clinebell machine that produces two at a time over a three-day cycle. Each block is sliced into smaller sixty-pound sub-blocks, before being turned into a one-inch rock, two-inch rock, long rock, sphere, or being crushed, shaved, or pebbled. Each technique creates a different effect: from zero dilution to retain the structure of a cocktail from start to finish, to subtle dilution that would create, say, a whiskey-and-water-type effect. 

My first drink, the Viva La Astral (tequila reposado, grapefruit and lemon juice, cucumber, jalapeño) was served with a one-by-one cube that did not melt, even as I slowly sipped to ensure the claim’s authenticity. 

While regular ice makers cool from the top down, the Clinebell, the same type of machine that ice sculptors use, cools from the bottom up, as a top layer of water forms to collect air bubbles—aka impurities—from the ice. The U.S. model of the Clinebell is listed at $5,500, made of galvanized steel, runs on approximately 115 volts, and draws thirty-six kilowatts of electricity per day. 

For perspective, that’s the same as running over a thousand thirty-watt lightbulbs in a day. Some environmentalists have warned against the artisan ice fad, citing unnecessarily high levels of energy consumption. 

But no one at STIR seemed too concerned about the carbon footprint. The high-vaulted wood-paneled ceilings echoed with chatter and laughter as a steady beat pulsed in the background. A woman behind the bar worked a hand-operated snow cone-style ice crusher. Another bartender pounded ice in a brown bag with a large wooden mallet. 

By 8:27 p.m., my ice sphere had barely melted. 

Contact food and digital editor Andrea Rice at 

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