Manchester isn’t over, gimmicky shite isn’t closing down pubs
First came the balls. Then came the dicks. But it was the Karen's that made everyone lose their heads.
Three experiential, social media-fuelled novelty hospitality ventures were announced for Manchester in the space of a week. But of course, the pressure had been building long before.
It's just gimmicky shite created with the sole intention of monetising a social media-addicted world
Blockbusters, a video rental-themed bar on Oldham Street, a few months ago. Alcotraz, a prison-themed, immersive cocktail experience last year. Peaky Blinders Bar years before - now very much a part of the furniture. All places that exist in the same realm as axe-throwing, videogame bars, escape rooms, Crystal Mazes, a place called Boom Battle Bar and any other establishment with novelty at its core that also serves food and drink.
Perhaps Bingo Balls, the grown-up ball pit bar in the Printworks, didn’t quite hit because Ballie Ballerson in London had walked so that it could run. Maybe the Northern Quarter place selling waffle dicks and vulvas didn’t blow up quite as much because people on Twitter can forgive a waffle. It’s not waffles’ fault.
But a place in Prestwich (most on social media simply decried Manchester) doing an immersive café concept shtick whereby the servers are all doing the wanker sign, staring down the camera like a deranged Neil Warnock whilst others give bad service and tell you to do one? Cue Twitter meltdown.
It's a dick-shaped waffle, chill out
The outrage came thick and fast. Why can’t people just go to the pub? People shout-tweeted. The numbers kept climbing and the outrage swelled. Comparisons and analysis went on tangents. We used to have Magma, one person suggested, and now we’ve got this. Others suggested that no indie in the suburbs was safe now that Karen’s Diner was on the loose.
One bloke said he’d left London to escape The Cereal Killer Cafe and he’d move again. Fucking hell, can someone please go check on him?
In the same week that Time Out ranked Manchester as the 13th best city to live in the world, many on Twitter announced Manchester was over. Finished. Not gone to the dogs, but to the Karens. Others said this could only happen in the North.
Nobody is making you do anything
I shouldn’t have to write this, but: Karen’s is not my cup of tea. I can safely say that it is not very good. Representatives of Manchester Confidential visited Karen’s Diner in Prestwich this week and if you asked them if they would go back they would politely say: no thank you.
There’s a lot to unpack but we’ll begin with what Karen’s Diner is. Karen’s Diner is an immersive, 12-month pop-up dining experience soon to open in Prestwich. Funnily enough, the Australian import (where it apparently sold out across cities) already has a pop-up in Sheffield. The diner sells burgers, fries, shakes and cocktails (this is what you pay for) and the premise is the staff are super rude and they give you a load of shit. It's loosely linked to the sexist Karen customer trope.
There’s vegetarian and vegan options but the staff inevitably give you more shit if you order it. The whole thing lasts about 70 minutes and there’s some interactive games involved.
For the smug Tweeters in Birmingham giving it big second city bollocks and saying not in my city. Tough luck bab, you’re next.
It's a ball pit, have a day off
The first thing worth mentioning is that Karen’s Diner is not coming for your local pub. Nor is Bingo Balls putting the screws on, Sopranos-style in the backrooms, to take over the Erst site. Don’t get it twisted.
What does and doesn’t have the financial resources to set up in prime locations in the city centre is a completely different conversation and these sorts of places are operating in a different arena to independents trying to scrape a living.
The way Twitter was talking last night you’d think one of Boris Johnson’s last, desperate, spunk-stained acts of leadership was to announce a mandated visit for everyone to Karen’s.
Nobody is forcing you to go lad. Nobody is dragging anyone there kicking and screaming. Nor is Karen’s pulling custom from our beloved independents. Small independent cafes, bars and restaurants are completely different propositions to these sorts of places.
NEW OPENING; Karen’s diner Manchester
At @karensdiner you will be greeted and waited upon by rude waiters who in return are expecting you to give it back to them.
Expect insults, general attitude and reasons to not return 😅#Karen pic.twitter.com/s7QB5uJaLU
— Manchester Confidential (@mcrconfidential) July 13, 2022
If anything, places like this redirect any boisterous, inflatable genitalia-armed stag or hen dos mistakenly walking into your local indie. To the “what happened to just going for a pint” club. Literally nothing has happened to going for a pint.
When was the last time you realistically went to the Printworks? Absolutely no offence to the Printworks. Is it not good to have different stuff for different people in Manchester? There’s no need to look down on anyone going.
At the heart of Karen’s Diner, and all of the shite that will inevitably follow, is a mixture of social media exposure and social media outrage. Granted, some of it is in especially bad taste (see: Alcotraz), but mostly of it's just gimmicky shite created with the sole intention of monetising a social media-addicted world.
After the response one video got on Twitter, you’d imagine the heads behind Karen’s Diner are rubbing their hands with glee. Mission accomplished. Whether that translates into bookings, only time will tell. People voted for Hitler and listen to Coldplay. It's sold out across Australia.
Yes it’s shit. Yes it’s tacky. Yes it’s not going to last long (it’s a pop-up) and yes we will not be going back. But let’s not get carried away, fads come and go. Best not to rise to them.
We'll see you in the ball pool.
Karen's Diner, 130 Bury New Rd, Prestwich, Manchester M25 0AA
Follow Davey on Twitter and Instagram: @dbretteats
Cover image: Karen's Diner
Read next: 'Playful flavours and textures' - Covino, Chester reviewed
Read again: First look: Ball pit bar for adults launches at The Printworks
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