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Dubai, Aug 12: Outside it was a sticky 111 degrees, but Ali Hamdan was shivering under two parkas as he sipped hot chocolate, surrounded by tables and chairs made of ice.

Chillout, its owners say, is the Middle East's first ice lounge — the latest venture in this desert Gulf emirate, which has been transformed by a mania for the biggest, first or most outlandish.

Gulf men in traditional white robes with wives covered in black cloaks, teenagers eager to experience their first cold blast and Westerners who miss the chill are flocking to the bar-restaurant to hang out in what amounts to a freezer.

Everything is made of ice: the walls, tables and chairs; cups, glasses and plates; the art on the wall, the sculptures depicting Dubai's skyline, the beaded curtains, the 7-foot-chandelier and the bar.

"It was the first time that I've been in such a cold place," said Fatima Ali, a 13-year-old Emirati, as she emerged from the restaurant, still breathless from the adventure. "It was fantastic. I took pictures to show my friends so they would come too."

Not everyone is so impressed. Some rush out after only a few minutes in the 21-degree temperature.

The $17 cover charge gets you one drink and the rental of a hooded parka, woollen gloves and insulated shoes. Customers don them outside, then spend a few minutes in the Buffer Zone, a room set at 41 degrees to adjust before entering the restaurant.

Sami al-Muhaideb, a 25-year-old Saudi travel agent, warned his friend Yousef Badr going in to expect a blast of cold air, like a freezer. Thirty minutes later, Badr emerged shivering, with a red nose.

Hamdan, 22, who works at Dubai customs, looked miserable as he sipped hot chocolate, an extra parka covering his legs. He hadn't quite dressed for the occasion, coming in a T-shirt and Bermuda shorts.

"He's not happy," his colleague Marwa Kharsa, a 25-year-old from Atlanta, said with a laugh. "But I'm extremely happy. I miss the cold."

While the new, $3 million hangout, which opened in a Dubai mall in June, is expected to become a must-see tourist destination, it also is expected to raise questions about already high energy consumption in this desert land. 


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