Blockhead: Máté Hartai has a secret method of freezing water, which eventually becomes his meticulously carved creations.

Dallas’ Mr. Freeze

How Máté Hartai cornered the fancy ice market.

“This is the video that started it all,” Máté Hartai says, holding his phone up as a 2007 mixology tutorial with Toby Maloney streams on YouTube. Maloney, the head bartender at Chicago cocktail den The Violet Hour, is making a whiskey smash—muddling lemon, ripping fresh mint leaves off the stem, and meticulously dripping bitters into a cocktail shaker.

But it wasn’t the drink that caught Hartai’s fancy. It was the jangly sound an ice cube made as Maloney dropped it into the whiskey tumbler. “It still gives me goose bumps,” he says. “When I first heard the sound of the ice hitting the glass, something clicked in my head.” 

Hartai is the founder of The Cold Standard, a luxury handmade ice company. He started playing around with frozen water in 2010. Currently, he is the only purveyor of custom-shaped ice in Dallas. He services a list of 10 steady clients, which includes Mexican Sugar, Whiskey Cake, Tei Tei Robata Bar, Remedy, HG Sply Co., and the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek. The Mansion sells a unique variety called The Mansion Diamond, a diamond-shaped creation hand-cut just for the bar’s gin and tonic. “This is the most work-intensive and delicate cube,” Hartai says.

Hartai uses an electric chainsaw lubricated with olive oil to break apart 150-pound blocks. Then he uses a butcher’s band saw to create smaller pieces before sculpting designs by hand. The sharp blade of his takobiki knife, used by sushi chefs to slice sashimi, allows him to create a standard diamond in eight to 10 seconds.

Hartai doesn’t allow visitors into his ice studio, citing concerns about his soon-to-be-patented method of making large-format ice blocks, but it’s located off Irving Boulevard just north of the Design District. That could change as he expands. When he’s not carving designer ice, Hartai works at HG Sply Co. and Remedy as the beverage director. He also speaks at events across the country, educating cocktail enthusiasts on everything from the chemical makeup of ice to ideal presentation.

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