Prior to his recent change in circumstances which led to the arrival of a couple of little bambinos, and a considerable amount of ensuing pressure from his missus to settle down and make a go of something at home, my mate Daz was a chronic traveller. He's been everywhere; from New Georgia to New Guinea, Greenland to the Galapagos, Johannesburg to Jakarta, Sydney to Siberia. He's seen it all, done it all, eaten and drunk it all and in some cases, shagged it all! He's a man with a million witty yarns and anecdotes from a life on the road, which he has ever at the ready when an opportunity arises in conversation, and no body, and I mean no body, ever tires of Daz's jokes and stories.
The ones I like to hear the most are those which describe the execution of Daz's peculiarly eccentric obsession with a particular form of souvenir which he collects from countries all over the globe. Now, as a kid, I was forced to sit in front of creepy, giggling Simon Townsend and his so-called Wonder World, and then when I got older and came home late after the pub, before the days of tele-marketing and Danny Bonaduce, I'd sit and eat my souvlaki in front of re-runs of Gary Who, and Just for the Record, so believe me, I've been exposed to some pretty weird obsessions with collectables; shells, spoons, plates, figurines of military figures from the Napoleonic wars, chess sets, garden gnomes, toy pigs ... blimey, I could go on and on. And even in my own life - I have a friend who collects drums from all over the world, another who has amassed a vast stock-pile of stubby-holders; I have a crazy mother who's into owls (432 at last count) and even Mrs Donkey's not averse to hoarding the odd-hundred fridge magnets. So yeah, I am kind of used to the idea of people collecting things, and tend not to get too surprised when I hear of someone's particular collectable fetish. But Daz; the thing that Daz has collected, ever since he began travelling, some twenty years ago, is manhole covers!
He's got dozens of them – from almost every country he's ever visited. I say almost, 'cause do you know which is the only country he has visited from which he doesn't have a manhole cover? It's Mongolia, 'cause the locals nicked 'em all and melted them down for scrap-metal and fast cash after the Russians pissed-off back across the Steppes in '91, taking all the machinery and skilled labour with them. I love hearing Daz's story about how he over-stayed his visa by two weeks in the vain hope of stumbling across a stray, forgotten manhole cover, befriending one delectable Mongolian female after another in order to move from house to house in an attempt to evade the immigration police. The way he tells the story, after two weeks of non-stop shagging, he could hardly walk anymore and gave himself up to the authorities, spent a night in a sub-freezing prison cell and was deported on the next plane, never to be allowed back into the country. To this day, he still has maps in his back room with which he intended to attempt a snatch-and-grab of a Mongolian manhole cover by stealing across the border from Kazakhstan on camel-back, but it never happened.
What's great about Daz's stories are the various means by which he was able to get the manhole covers out. More often than not, manhole covers have pretty distinct markings on them making it very clear which country they belong to, and some governments get pretty touchy about the removal of government-issue property. And let's face it, a manhole cover is a bit heavier than a commemorative spoon or a fridge magnet.
About 18 years ago (blimey, has it been that long?) I was in Berlin just as the wall was coming down – I know, I know, even at fifteen, I was just so cutting-edge!) and although the streams of East and West Berliners were moving freely back and forwards, it was still pretty uncertain about what was going to happen. At the American checkpoint, Checkpoint Charlie, there was a museum focusing on the history of all the attempts, both successful and failed, of Easties escaping to the West. In this museum there are some pretty amazing contraptions, such as cars with hollowed-out seats that could fit a person inside, false-bottomed trucks, duel-compartment laundry baskets etc. All pretty amazing stuff, but nothing anywhere about how to get a manhole cover across the border. But guess what? One of Daz's most treasured editions to his collection is an East Berlin manhole cover, pre-1989!
And if you don't believe me, then maybe you should go and take a look. Y'see, as I mentioned earlier, Daz has recently settled-down back in his home town of Melbourne, with his two lovely kids, and his also lovely (although for mine a bit prickly) wife, Lolita. After a period of restlessness in which Daz, in an attempt to provide for his swelling brood, tried one odd-job after another, he finally threw caution to the wind and opened up his own business, combining the only two things he's ever been committed to, making cocktails, and his collection of exotic manhole covers.
Six months ago, Daz opened his funky new bar in the equally funky, and burgeoning bar scene of Flinders Lane, just near Royston Place. When you walk in the front door, you'll be blown away by the awesome, comfy decor, the very carefully selected music (lovingly changed daily and never-to-be-repeated) and the most incredible, mind-blowing cocktails, as you would expect from a man who has worked in every beach-side resort from Bermuda to Bahama (sorry, couldn't resist that one) and who even once over-wintered in Russia in the '80s, working in Moscow's exclusive underground club-scene (believe me, the triple vodka martinis are to die for).
So I mentioned the decor, but what I didn't describe to you is that Daz's massive collection of manhole covers are all there on display; on ceilings, walls, as table-tops, toilet seats – everywhere. And best of all, Daz loves to tell the story of each and every one to anyone who'll listen - where it came from, how he got it out, and usually, how many beauties he had to sleep with in the process. It's truly the most mesmerising experience to be sitting in a very cool space in one of Melbourne's fastest-growing hangouts for the ultra-hip, with swanky tunes forming a very comfortable ambience, sucking back on a thick Cuban cigar (oops, not any more), and watching a master performer mixing incredible potions while relaying an inexhaustible collection of extremely amusing and edge-of-the-seat tales you could ever imagine.
Sound good? You betcha it's good! But at the beginning of this post, I mentioned that Daz was in a bit of financial strife, and the reason for this is that when naming his awesome new bar, Daz was leaned-upon by his hard-arsed, staunchly feminist wife, and as always, he buckled under her very stern gaze and her anticipated, tempest-like Latino fury were he to not comply. You see, not surprisingly, Daz wanted to name his bar, "Manhole", but Lolita said that that was degrading to working women all over the world, many of whom are responsible for doing just the type of work that sees them going below-deck to fix pipes, cables, railway lines etc.
OK, fair point, but what to call it? Daz wanted to keep the manhole theme in there somewhere, but also wanted to make sure, in keeping with every other aspect of the bar – location, decor, music etc - the name remained cool and hip.
Eventually, after much soul-searching, checking with the Australian Business registration people, coming up with suggestions and having them canned by Lolita, she finally sanctioned the name "(Wo)Manhole". Hmmm ... not bad, I suppose, kind of witty, and so they went with it, and it worked. The funksters of the inner city love the place, word-of-mouth has been effective, and Daz is performing to reasonable crowds every weekend. So what's the problem? Well, people hear glowing reports about the bar, and when they hear the name, they go straight to their directories or websites or whatever to look it up and find out where it is, but no directory in the land will recognise the character "(", and not only that, but you can't have "(" in a web address, so no one can find out where it is. Daz, with the perfect outlet for his special talents, is potentially sitting on a goldmine, but no one knows where he is.
So my reason for writing this post today is to help spread the word about one of the coolest spots in Melbourne right now to have a drink, and one of the most entertaining nights out you'll ever have. In doing this, I am doing both Daz a favour and, I hope, you yourselves, 'cause I guarantee you'll want all your friends to go along afterwards. (Wo)Manhole is in Flinders Lane, about two doors up from Royston Place. Have fun, and tell Daz that Donkey said G'Day.
This is a manhole cover in Tibet, a similar one to which is also a proud possession of Daz at (Wo)Manhole, Flinders Lane, near Royston Place. Pic: Hagas
Thanks for your Comments:Kate S, Gouda and Sabrina, I know you guys have sent comments recently, and although I can’t read ‘em now, I do appreciate it, and welcome more, more, more.