This DJ Turned Bespoke Ice Cubes Into a Career
"I think the cubes are very mesmerizing objects to have in your drink, and it kind of brings up all these questions: How did it get in there? How is it floating?"
Composite image; left image via discocubes' Instagram and right image by the author.
Leslie Kirchhoff is not the first person to value the aesthetics of ice. Suspender-wearing bartenders in New York got there long ago with their giant crystal-clear cubes, and meticulous Japanese bartenders got there before the New Yorkers, carving beautiful orbs by hand for highballs and prize whisky. But Wisconsin-native Kirchhoff broke the mold when she mastered something new in the ice space.
“I set my mind to the goal of figuring out how to get something suspended in the center of an ice cube,” the founder of Disco Cubes told me at her home in Los Angeles. “I kind of tried everything out there. I started making my own molds, and finding silicone, and just playing around with everything. When I finally figured it out, then I had to figure out how to make more than one at a time.”
In addition to an ice innovator, Kirchhoff is a commercial photographer and disco, funk, and soul DJ. “I like to say old hits that you forgot you love,” she says. After attending NYU, she stayed in New York for work and started experimenting with ice—bringing together parallel passions.
“I've always been fascinated with cocktails, and cooking, and just kind of the artistic side of food, and art, and even kind of fascinated with molecular gastronomy,” she says. “My friend and I had started cooking together, and making recipes that we would name with song title names. We called it Disco Kitchen, and we would get together weekly and just make playlists to listen to while we experimented with food.”
Kirchhoff calls Disco Kitchen the fake company that lead to Disco Cubes. “When we started doing Disco Cubes, we originally jokingly called them Noice Cubes, from nice to noice,” she says. “That's not even interesting, but then we decided Disco Cubes sounded better. We love disco music, and just the whole vibe of making it chic and sexy is fun too.”
She started experimenting with different temperatures, trying to figure out how to make the ice more clear. “Kind of by happy accident I made this really beautiful cube by pouring boiling water onto a blackberry, and it made this beautiful purple cloud on the bottom around the blackberry, and then a clear top,” she says. “I really love playing around with juices of vegetables with fruits, and playing around with color where it's almost kind of a hybrid between a Popsicle and an ice cube.”
Suspending an ingredient in the middle of a cube was Kirchhoff’s biggest breakthrough. It took her another year before she figured out how to scale production up and supply to events. She’s now made custom cubes for Playboy, Martha Stewart Living, Autograph Collection Hotels, and Girl Boss, among others.
Kirchhoff’s next move is to offer more of a bar service than just ice for clients who want custom cocktails to go with their cubes. “I would rather have a wonderful menu of drinks, and the cubes that go perfectly with them, and just kind of offer it all as a package,” she says. “I think it would be really fun to have a bar service, and I'm getting custom punch bowls made. I wanna bring punch back.”
As Disco Cubes continues to grow, Kirchhoff has gotten inquiries from a range of interested parties like Disney and reality TV. “Shark Tank reached out, and I do love Shark Tank, but I'm not ready for that yet,” she says.
She might not be ready for NBC, but Kirchhoff isn’t shying away from media. She makes films inspired by old vintage spy films, like fake trailers and commercials, for the Disco Cubes website.
“In my mind all the content is supposed to be sort of confusing and intriguing, just kind of how the cubes are,” she says. “I think the cubes are very mesmerizing objects to have in your drink, and it kind of brings up all these questions: How did it get in there? How is it floating? It's very specimen-like, and I kind of want all the content to be a little confusing and intriguing as well.”