USYD’S Once Glorious Manning Bar Is Closing Down

This Week, the University of Sydney’s Union announced that its once infamous place on campus, Manning Bar, would cease trading hours and only be open for special events.

Photo Credit: The University of Sydney Union

When I asked my aunt, a University of Sydney alum, about Manning Bar’s glory days, her eyes glazed over, brimming with drunken, splendid memories of comedy acts, premier gigs and cheeky drinks between classes. She recalled watching Tom Gleeson, at the beginning of his career practicing and performing at the bar. Andrew O’Keefe, Rob Carlton and Charles Firth have also professed gratitude for the training ground that Manning Bar’s stage provided. It hosted artists like Gotye, The Foo Fighters and Billy Bragg at its peak. My aunt even recounted leaving lectures early to join the queue for drinks, food, and a small show at the bar.

Thirty years later, despite being a proud USYD girl, my memories are quite the opposite. In my first year of university, I visited Manning Bar with my friend so that we could score its cheap, $5 eats. Stale beer was not the only waft that Manning exuded. It was dark, dingy and dusty. It felt like my grandma’s attic. The one bartender held his phone in plain sight as he stared at the empty chairs, old sauce bottles and repulsively damp carpet. After paying for our $5 dollar ‘burger’ (it consisted of a patty, bread, and tomato sauce) we sat outside, crinkling our noses in disgust and disappointment. I’ve since been back a total of three times. Once, because I had seen my high-school-crush on the bus, and I desperately needed a drink, the other times were for a Harry Potter trivia night and for a chance to fill up my water bottle for free.

Photo Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

When the University of Sydney Union announced that Manning Bar would be closing down, I was unsurprised. Meanwhile, my aunt was devastated. It seems jarring that I do not have an inch of respect for Manning Bar, or that fellow first-year students during this year’s Welcome Week would only visit it for its annual “Welcome to Sydney Party,” and never see it open during the day.

In the University of Sydney Union’s announcement, the Board President, Connor Wherrett, explained that “we set up a working group over six months to explore options, but all seemed unfeasible to bring it back.” It was also reported that Manning, alongside Hermann’s Bar, had a combined loss of $245’000 in its last year.

The last spectacular thing to really happen to Manning Bar was its small claim to fame when the one and only Leonardo DiCaprio visited it in 2011 during the production and filming of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby. The legend of Leonardo DiCaprio silently taking a seat on Manning’s balcony to rehearse his lines whilst dressed in a baseball cap, dark sunglasses and a hoodie is still whispered in USYD’s hallowed halls. Perhaps it is this information that has kept Manning open for so long. Who could possibly close a place that Leonardo DiCaprio deigned to visit?

Photo Credit: Andrea Schaffer/Flickr

Manning’s painful, slow death can only be attributed to USYD’s dying campus culture. Clubs and societies are no longer as active or enjoyable, parties are far less frequent, and its sexist, abusive college culture was rightfully exposed a few years ago. This isn’t an attempt to decry USYD’s shaky reputation.

As an institution of learning, the university is pretty much at the top of its game. Ranked in the top 50 every year for QS World Rankings, it beats out its counterparts UNSW and UTS regularly. The Graduate Employability Rankings placed USYD fourth in the world, ahead of Harvard, Cambridge, Oxford and Yale. These impressive statistics don’t mean much to students who still wish for a reprieve from the education side of USYD though.

The burgeoning question is whether USYD will be able to revive its campus life, but with the closure of Manning Bar, it seems like a world away.

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