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Setting the bar higher: a new Manning?

The iconic building is due for major changes, writes Michael Koziol.

One student Honi spoke to said Manning's outdoor area was inferior to Hermann's. Photo: The Venue Collection

At some point in the quietest moments of Snowball, Manning’s bartenders – their tedium becoming nauseous – must have stared out across the empty dancefloor and wondered what went wrong.

The poor attendance at the USU’s flagship semester two event has re-ignited conversation about how to improve the country’s most iconic campus bar.

Although hard data is not forthcoming, some have sensed a gradual decline in patronage of Manning Bar over the past few years. While the advent of Taste at the New Law building on Eastern Avenue is often thought to have thinned the Manning crowd, those Honi spoke to suggest other factors, such as poor furniture, clumsy design, and unsatisfactory food options, are also to blame.

The building has been earmarked for major capital works in the near future. In November 2011 the USU’s Sustainable Strategic Framework document, responding to criticism from the university, proposed the redevelopment of the union’s key buildings.

The document included blueprints for a refurbished Manning House, completed by a professional design firm. The USU is keen to stress the plans were generated entirely by the designers as potential outcomes for a revamped Manning. The draft concept replaced the Isabel Fidler room with a vinyl record lounge and installed a cocktail bar opposite its entrance.

The designers had a more artistic vision for the rest of Manning, with a gallery installed in the lower level and the middle floor including artists’ studios. The building’s next iteration would almost certainly involve different, modernised food options and possibly more second-level floorspace.

One student Honi spoke to said Manning’s outdoor area was inferior to Hermann’s. Photo: The Venue Collection

Manning House was constructed in the early 1990s and renovated to include a bar in 2000. It is a purpose-built music venue, and has attracted high-profile bands to play sell-out shows over the past decade.

But the USU admits there has been a decline in Manning’s relevance as a music venue, which some have blamed on a staff restructure and the departure of Richard Cuthbert in 2010.

“We are yet to see a definitive link that suggests this restructure was what directly impacted on Manning’s standing as a live music venue,” said the USU President, Astha Rajvanshi. “This is something we are exploring further.”

Yet there have also been signs of continued strength: a sold-out show by The Rubens and a stellar band-comp final were highlights of the past fortnight. The bar improved its financial performance last semester compared to recent times.

When Honi visited Manning last Friday, the space had been well-colonised by a variety of different groups enjoying the lazy afternoon and fading light. First-year media student Hayley Delamotte was introducing her sister to the bar and said Manning was the default campus destination for her friends. Second-year economics student Mike Major was working on his laptop while waiting for friends, and said Manning remained “a really good place to chill out with mates” or start a bigger night out.

With $5 million allocated to a redevelopment of the Holme building, financial imperatives mean the USU’s next major project may have to wait. If that project is Manning, as is the preference of some senior union and university representatives, sources say we may see action within the next two to three years.