Sunday, 22 September 2013

A Tale of Two Lines: My Most (un)Spectacular Adventure to Mana Bar

Now, before you start making assumptions about what I'm about to say, let me just state (yes, on record) that I am in no way attacking Mana Bar. In fact, I have absolutely no qualms with the place whatsoever. I'm not the type to hold grudges on establishments after only one visit.

Yes, that's right: before tonight, I had never, ever stepped foot inside Mana Bar, Melbourne' one and only video games bar. Which is kind of strange, considering it contains two of my favourite things: alcohol and video games.

I don't really know why I'd never bothered to even grab a quiet drink there before. Maybe it's because I'm one of those 'broke student' stereotypes with an expensive caffeine addiction to support, making social outings (i.e. drinking at bars) all but a distant memory. Maybe it's because I rarely leave my house unless it's to go to class or go to work. Or maybe it's because deep down inside, I really do agree with all those internet-dwelling, Mana Bar-haters who scoff about how they can get drunk and play video games from the comfort of their home for pretty much free, so why the hell would any idiot pay for it?

No, to be honest, the real reason I've never been to Mana Bar before is that I don't really know anyone who would go with me. I know, that sounds horribly sad and pathetic. I do have friends, and some of them would definitely be up for a social gaming session over a tasty cocktail; however, those friends live far, far away from me. In different cities. Accompanying me on spontaneous bar crawls are sort of impractical for them.

Today, however, was different. During my lunch break, I arranged to meet a friend outside Mana Bar after work. We'd casually discussed it before, and I'd told them how I was incredibly keen to check it out before it was gone forever, as low funds and complicated Melbourne liquor licensing laws were forcing Mana out of town. And so we agreed that we would be there for the bar's final hurrah.

A few hours later, I'm waiting outside the bar, dressed in my awful work clothes which of course were covered in bits of food and an assortment of filth. Suffice to say, it was not the usual attire one would wear during a night out in Fitzroy. Nevertheless, I was still optimistic. As the one-man line started to grow in numbers, I decided to join the queue and do some antisocial twitter browsing on my phone while waiting for my (now late) friend.  This was going to be fun... right?

About 45 minutes later, I'm right at the front of the line, when suddenly: my friend arrives! With... some drunk guy. Like, really drunk. Slumped against a wall, barely vertical, reeking of booze drunk. Apparently they'd decided to have more than a couple of pre-drinks. My confidence in getting let in suddenly dropped. Of course, I wasn't about to let my two newly-arrived accomplices push in line, because that's unfair and also I hate people who push in line with the intensity of one thousand burning suns. I begrudgingly navigated us to the back of the queue. Things were not looking good for our heroes.

An hour later, and we're still waiting to get in. My friend desperately wanted to leave, but I managed to convince them to wait "just twenty minutes longer!". Incredibly Drunk Guy swayed silently.

We eventually made it to the front of the queue. Then, even more remarkably, we got inside. The bar was tiny, just as I'd heard. It was also very crowded, something I'd also heard on the grapevine (i.e. the internet). While my friend escorted Incredibly Drunk Guy to the toilets, I waited in line for a drink, which I was now rather desperate for. 

Now, I'm one of those wonderful, socially awkward people who struggles to strike up a conversation with strangers in a bar while I'm sober. It's a bit sad, really. I'm by no means saying I need to be drunk and 'charming'. I just find it so much easier to initiate conversation and keep talking like a normal person when I have just half a drink in my system. Even just holding a drink in my hand helps. No, it's not alcoholism, it's just using alcohol as a crutch because I am a weird hermit who doesn't know how to socialise! Hurray!

All around me, people were talking loudly and animatedly about games, the bar, and general nerd culture. People were greeting cosplayers in character, as though they were old friends; more than once, I heard the phrase "WINTER IS COMING!" shouted with gusto. And I just stood there, silently watching, waiting alone in yet another line and hoping to get a drink in to my system, STAT.

Less than 20 minutes later, I was walking out the front door of Mana Bar. My visit was short-lived, my expectations unfulfilled. That 20 minutes involved my friend returning from the toilet, shouting about refusing to wait in line for a drink, and me convincing them to stay long enough for one game. We ended up playing Mario Kart Wii, which I was absolutely appalling at. Wii controllers are a strange and foreign technology to me, which was very apparent if the unamused look on our fourth player's face was anything to to by. He diligently explained how to use the controllers, kicked our asses and left without saying another word. So much for socialising.

Yes, my one and only visit to Mana Bar was a complete and utter disaster. The line was long, the venue itself was crowded and tiny, and if I'd managed to actually get to the bar and order a drink, I'm sure I'd have lamented the cost of the drinks.

Obligatory grainy photo obviously taken on my phone
But these were all things that I was totally expecting, and didn't mind at all. So no, I do not blame Mana Bar for my awful night. In fact, I can only blame myself. I'm pretty sure that on any other night, perhaps with a slightly wiser choice of company, I would have had a delightful time sampling delicious cocktails and bonding with complete strangers over our love of games.

Any even wiser version of myself would have left those drunken suckers from tonight waiting in line, gone inside, grabbed a drink and made some new and better friends (my Mario Kart Wii ability would probably have been about the same).

Instead, I left Mana Bar very sober and very bitter as I listened in silent horror as my friend ranted about how they "absolutely hate gamers". Yep.

Nevertheless, the general atmosphere tonight was that of almost unanimous positivity. Mana Bar has definitely held a very special place in the heart of Melbourne's gamer community. And if the happy faces of those inside and the unwavering determination of those waiting to get in are anything to go by, it will certainly be missed.


  1. Reading this reminded me of all my outings with my friends in Singapore, when we used to get together and throw barbecues over our love of video games and, at the time, Hellgate: London. They were entirely animated as they conversed about this or that or some other game and I'd just be standing around like a mute, occasionally smiling and nodding my head as I wondered how they could find Hellgate: London or any other game so interesting to talk about.

    Needless to say, I'm not a terribly social person. Wish I was, though.

  2. I've gotten better over the years (I used to be so shy that I couldn't even approach the bar and order a drink by myself) and have become less socially awkward by basically just forcing myself to be in unfamiliar social situations. Even meeting someone at a bar- going there all by myself and standing around strangers- is something which just a couple of years ago I never would have done. And it's from situations like this that I learn that I need to push myself one step further out of my comfort zone, i.e. don't wait outside alone, but go inside and talk to people!

    1. Yeah! Every little bit helps. I remember this one night, a few years ago, I went to the club and talked to so many strangers there. It was exhilarating and while I didn't make any new long-term friends, it did help me to break out of my shell.