What Really Happened At The Heineken City Shapers Festival

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MELBOURNE | Dear readers. Our fellow food blogger friends wrote about this a few months ago, but we at the City Lane didn’t quite feel they captured the true essence of the event. This post is our Senior Contributor Chris’ incredibly satirical take on the event, which will hopefully fill in some of the gaps left by the other coverage.

It all started with an invite.

Well, I say invite. It was actually one of those things older readers would struggle to remember the name of, but would later find out it was called a View Master. For the younger readers out there, think of it as virtual reality, if that reality was lived one manually-changed slide at a time. What did the invite say? Through the mystical and now name-checked view master, the invitation showed visions of cities, of vibrancy, and of course, of Heineken. All we had to do was get to Melbourne’s Southern Cross station for a train leaving at 7:55pm.

Now, part of me had hoped that the event was trying to pull a fast one and that this would be a regular suburban train to somewhere like Springvale or Cheltenam, but this is Heineken, and on arriving at the station we ventured instead onto a fancy, beery, chartered train destined for a mysterious location. The train, of course, was a bar. Two bars actually. One, with the vibe of an older pub; the lights bright and the music quiet and talk-friendly. The other, was like a club; complete with a DJ shoehorned into one corner. He was probably someone well known, but knowing who he was would likely contradict my lack of DJ knowledge.

It was around this point that I spilt my first Heineken. Not a major, Exxon Valdez-like spill, but more like the dribble from a leaking shower, or the drool from an excited dog. And then there was the waiting. Because the thing about Heineken is: you have to drink it cold. It’s a fine lager, but drinking it at anything except cryogenic can make for a less than satisfying experience. So when waiting for the train to move, you need to find that uneasy balance between savouring your quickly-expiring beer and enjoying your quickly-expiring beer, without finding yourself empty by the time the train leaves and subsequently arrives at its destination. I’ll admit, this was probably one of the more first world problems of a night filled with only first world problems, but you play the cards that you’re dealt.

The train moved slow as it left the station, and with that movement, we all began to relax our cold-to-empty drinking ratio. Of course, it’s a mystery destination, or so much as a rail line can be a mystery, so we still couldn’t be too relaxed. What if our Heineken supply ran dry before we got there? Will there or could there be an emergency stop for more? It’s a silly question, but as we travelled, now standing in the quiet bar, there’s an exclamation from the other, nightclub-like bar as people begin surging into ours. Apparently, theirs is out of booze and they have now arrived to expertly assess the supply in our carriage. #SavourFail, I think to myself as I sheepishly entertain the last drops of my own beer.

Soon, the train pulls to a stop at Kensington, a suburb once described to me as somewhere that would be a great place, if only more trains actually went there. Oh the irony. There’s a hurry as we all turn to leave the train, but as we surge forward the train moves again, this time back the other way. My beer is empty now. Be still my beating heart. But BACKWARDS I tell people. We’re going BACKWARDS. I seemed to be the only one astonished by this. I assumed everyone else was still worrying about how much beer they have left.

The train stops again, but this time there’s no station, but instead a small flight of stairs. It’s a secret stop. Or at least, it’s secret when it’s dark. In daylight it’s probably the equivalent of a Times Square billboard. We step out of the carriage and down a flight of stairs, take a few steps on solid ground, and then go up another set of stairs and into a mystery warehouse (until you look at Google Maps that is; it was some art space.) Inside the warehouse is beer and food, lots of food, all presented in the form of a hawker market. And there are drums. Actual drums from actual drummers on top of an actual indoor roof inside an actual warehouse. I’m pretty sure all of those things were actual. Of course, like an Olympic Games opening ceremony, where countries fight for their national pride via forced theatricality, there is something odd but fascinating about seeing a few random drummers slamming out a beat to a bunch of drunks who have freshly arrived on a train. On the one hand, I would like to think the drummers do this for everyone that arrives at the warehouse at any hour of the day, but on the other hand, I think they were as confused as anyone about standing on a small inside roof beating a drum to a bunch of drunks.

This room was a chance to show off the first of the cities at the heart of the City Shapers event. You may not have heard of this event in particular, but if you have ever had a Heineken in the past 10 years, you would certainly have noticed the city names near the top of the bottle. In the past, Heineken have also given away James Bond DVDs with slabs of beer, but that was when people used DVDs and I bought slabs of Heineken. Looking around the room, the location is unclear, but the Korean food at the stalls could be a hint. Of course, the oversized parade dragons could contradict that, so let’s call this the non-descript room to be on the safe side. For worse or for better, the same cannot be said for the next room.

It is important to note that we were a few Heinekens in at this point, and by a few I loosely mean any number between one and ten, so you could say our judgement was a little blurred. But back to the next room. It was a place that screamed New York in every way except actually being anything like New York. Oh sure, there is that ‘Empire State of Mind’ song playing while several dancers take over a makeshift stage, but this is definitely less a big apple and more a sour berry (much like this post). But, as the dance and song passed with the vigor with which it began, it was time for the one thing New York would be once again guaranteed to have: Heineken … or maybe not. Up a flight of stairs revealed what appeared to be the remnants of another party. It was kind of like if you arrived home from out of town to find your flat mates had a party in your absence, complete with empty bottles and weary eyes. Only, in this instance the Heineken party aftermath also included signs of a Huxtaburger stand, now long abandoned rather like a Wild West saloon before a gunfight. But not to be beaten by an empty bar, we forged on, back the way we came, to the place where we knew there would be Heineken: the non-descript room.

It was a few more Heinekens later that the familiar parade dragons reappeared, this time leading us away from the non-descript room and into a new room. This was one was much more familiar, with the stereotypes clear. We were in Rio. There were dancers, perhaps from our previous destination of New York, but now they were doing things that we all assumed would be seen in Rio. Or alternatively, they were now doing things that would definitely be seen at Heineken’s version of Rio (let’s call it faux Rio). And believe it or not, they also served Heineken.

When the dancers had left the stage, the DJ was revealed. Like on the train, he could have been famous (it turns out he was), I’m not sure, but he was definitely a DJ, a fact I could astutely confirm mostly by the turntable and the precariously donned headphones on his head. He was joined by an onscreen presenter. A cool hipster woman who was incredibly excited about counting down the hits from somewhere in the 50s all the way to 2016. I’m not entirely sure what this had to do with the theme; it’s probably best I didn’t ask. I also can’t remember what song it started with, and maybe it started in the 60s and I just totally forgot it amid the Heinekens. It all got blurry at this point. But I assume we had now left the faux Rio room, although there was still Heineken so I’m not sure.

Some Heinekens more and we were beginning to think that we couldn’t handle any more Heinekens, but then, as if hearing our calls, a tray full of Huxtaburgers appeared in the air packed. Of course, it wasn’t levitating in some gravity-defying Heineken witchcraft, as there was certainly a hand of someone holding the tray, but amid the raw power of the Huxtaburgers, it may as well have been a tray that had gained the power of levitation. And with the Huxtaburgers now firmly in our grasp, the Heinekens also continued far more easily.

But as we drank more Heineken, the seeds of a Brothers Grimm-like story began to unfold. It was an unlimited supply, and so the cold ratios and restrictions from the train no longer applied. Instead, our greed gave us unexpected options. If we drank the beer slowly, aka responsibly, we could only get two-thirds of the way before it went warm and became a struggle to drink. If we drank them quickly as nature intended, keeping every drop cold and refreshing, our not-so-sudden drunkenness would surely cause a scene worthy enough to be asleep in faux New York before we realised. In the end, we settled on drinking two-thirds, or was it a half? It’s probably best not to explore that one.

When the last song of 2016 had passed and the probably-famous DJ had finished, a pop star, who I was reliably informed was also probably-famous, appeared on the side of the stage and belted out some of her tunes to a backing track. She was good, and I would have paid more attention, maybe looked her up on Google or some music service thing, but with a few more than a few more Heinekens now under my belt, I was in no condition for independent research, or any research for that matter, unless it involved the first two-thirds of a Heineken bottle.

But all things must come to an end, and mystery Heineken events are no exception as our Uber pulled up in a street beside the warehouse. We could have taken the train, but we realised it would be another 30 minutes for the mystery train to return and even when it did, it would still drop us off 45 minutes from our houses in Brunswick.

The following day was a Heineken-induced struggle, complete with sleep-deprived weariness and thoughts that I couldn’t really take another Heineken, or any beer for that matter, for a while. However, as the Friday afternoon beers began to appear at my office, the selection consisting largely of macro lagers, I found myself once again opening the cap on an ice cold Heineken.

Damn you Heineken.

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Chris
Chris
Chris is an editor, writer, and occasional novelist who in a former life published online magazines for a living while working out of obscure coffee shops. He has travelled extensively and has eaten and enjoyed exotic delights ranging from instant ‘just add water’ potatoes while on a Russian train to snails and Brie from a tiny Montreal kitchen. Chris is a great lover of the experiences around and associated with food and believes the culture of a venue, as quirky or strange as it might be, is just as important as the food it sells. He is also a co-host of The Brunswick Beer Collective, a podcast dedicated to the lighter side of craft beer.

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