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Manor Hall Bar: A History - A Bar Manager's Perspective by Andy Collins

They did proper interviews and everything. I had decided I wanted to be the Manor Bar manager after seeing the unlimited power and prestige it bestowed on the current post holders. I also liked living in Manor very much and didn't like the prospect and cost of having to move all my stuff more than one, possibly two, floors away. The process was an actual formal, sit down and answer questions interview about what I was going to do for the bar and making sure I understood this was a real business. I can't remember much about the interview except for a guy called James directly asking "What the hell makes you think you can be bar manager when you haven't worked a single evening in this bar yet!?". He had a good point. I do remember that my answer was something sensible rather than "but I've been drinking loads in my first year".

When they told me I was going to be one of three managers (formerly they had only two) I thought "Yes!" then realised there was probably going to be actual responsibility. Luckily, when the positions were divvied out between Adam (Blacklock), Ceri (Brown) and myself I ended up being entertainment and staff manager. This meant I had no access to accounts or having to do stock takes or e-mails like Adam and Ceri had to. Ceri had to show up to court early a couple of times to get special licenses which seemed pretty painful. Mostly because we did things like duct taping his phone to his unconscious drunk head with the alarm on so he wouldn't forget to go. My only priority was to keep the bar open and get people to work for "Beer Tokens". This turned out to be surprisingly difficult as many students, even at the turn of the millennium in the days before fees, really did prioritise getting decent degrees over drinking for free. However, the community in Manor then as I hope now, was close knit and people generally spent so much time in Manor bar that hanging out on the pulling pints side of the bar made a minimal difference to their evening plans plus more drinks for them in the long run. I remain very proud to say that Manor Bar was not closed a single evening during my tenure. Though I did have to cover a fairly frequent number of evenings myself - paying people in booze has limits.

One of the best things about becoming the bar manager was getting my hands on a Costco card. It's like being given a license to kill, only you can't kill anyone and you use it for buying single middle-aged bachelor sized buckets of snacks. Did you know a single 10 Kg bag of Bombay mix can be consumed within 2 weeks? Adam, Ceri and I began frequently making the trips up to Cribbs Costco and stocking up on weapons grade crisps, diet cokes and endless crates of Red-Bull. We had oceans of Red-Bull. It was getting snapped up as a solid mixer and more cans were being shifted by wired panicky people with all-nighters to pull and essays to finish. Because the internet was still in its relatively early days the stories of peoples hearts exploding from overdosing on bootleg "Rad-Stallion", "Red Belter" and similar generic energy drinks had yet to dampen anyone's enthusiasm for chugging litres of it. We had a discussion about special deals we could use to shift it. Vodka and Red Bull was the standard but we wanted to put a special spin on it. Give people something they didn't know they wanted. A drink that would become the Long Island Iced Tea of its day. Instead of just a single or double measure we could do more vodka? Instead of one can of Red Bull, we could do two? Could we do more? I knew we were on to something. After a week or so of thrashing out the details we came up with 6 + 2 = 5. A deal where you would get 6 shots of vodka and 2 cans of Red Bull for 5 quid. I had some posters printed and the day we launched it I think we were all overcome with pride. It was a smash hit. We did have a few teething troubles and Toby (Maddocks), our Bar Tutor, gently informed me that selling six shots in a pint glass was illegal. Realising the danger in irresponsible drinks promotions I quickly came to my senses and we began selling the shots in three double measures and providing a pint glass for the Red Bull. We also noticed people were looking just terrible on Thursday mornings as many of them hadn't even slept to go on top of the hangovers. There was one night after £15 well spent that I realised shutting my eyes and slipping under the duvet wasn't happening with a resting heart rate of 154 bpm. Probably the major problem was that selling booze on the cheap wasn't doing Manor Bars books any good. As entertainment manager I valiantly sidestepped the issue and left this to Ceri and Adam.

Things were going well after the first month or so and I'd been thinking about what we could do to have a really big draw to the bar - something that we could turn into a tradition and keep going long after we had all left Uni. The previous bar managers had left a Yard Of Ale glass and this was getting fairly regular use. There was an excellent challenge element to it at considerable personal risk (getting soaked in ale, puking up, bed wetting) and the whole thing had become a competitive spectator sport. The community at Manor had lots of people who didn't drink and we wanted to have an event where everyone could have fun and take on a challenge together. Once again I turned to a large discount wholesaler for inspiration. On many visits to Costco I had noticed the size of the meat pies was offensively large. They were not just big but choking an elephant big. Who needs a 6 Kg pork pie? I could understand lots of little ones but...a giant single pie? Then it dawned on me - like the two and a half pint yard this was another challenge. An eating and drinking challenge! We were going to have a contest! All sorts of pies - veggie and meat! But what about people who don't like pies? Over in the chocolate section was the answer - multipacks of Curly Wurly. People could pit themselves against a full, brutally chewy, yard of Curly Wurly. Adam, Ceri and I took two cars to Costco and stocked up on an absurd number of pies and a boot full of chocolate. Pie and Yard night was absolutely amazing - eating challenge after eating challenge. Fastest giant pie. Yard of Ale race. Yards of Curly Wurly races. Let me tell you, Curly Wurly speed eating can drain you. The biggest challenge was the "pork pie battle" people lined up across the table - each staring down the barrel of a large pork pie, a smaller pork pie and a pack of mini pork pies. When the whistle went the resulting action was an affront to dignity. The contenders were ripping into the pies like wild dogs. Within, I think, 90 brutal and loud seconds we had a winner - Mark Binks. He'd seen off his contenders and emerged victorious. After the cheers and applause had died down he excused himself and left the bar. It was a fantastic night and well worth the extra hour cleaning up. I woke up the next day extremely happy and made my way to the bathroom to answer nature's call. Like many Manor residents my sink was a perfectly acceptable alternative to walking down the corridor to the loos at 4 am. However, a kilo of pies and curly wurlys needed the attention my sink couldn't handle. I was looking forward to a quiet morning reading Viz on the throne but as I entered the bathrooms I detected a terrible smell. With rising horror I opened a cubicle to find what could only be litres of thick pink vomit on the floor, the walls, the back of the door and, bloody hell, the ceiling. Clearly someone had a rough night and no small amount of fierce internal pressure and pies. I'm not saying it was Binks but he did move pretty sharp for a man full of pie after the contest. Reeling from the smell of semi digested pork I did the only thing I could and went to the loos on the floor above.

Eventually came the sad day when we had to interview a new generation of bar managers and hand over to them. It was for the best since partying in a bar for a year had damaged my chances of obtaining a solid degree.

Article originally published in the Issue 9, Summer 2020 newsletter


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