The Spencer Street end of town.
It was one of those bars with deep shadows and retro red furniture and lampshades everywhere; and cigarette smoke drifting through the open wall-width windows from the area smokers have to go to avoid choking the people in the bar.
You can tell it's an industry function because people smoke in a different way when they're networking. Kind of mechanically and efficiently, while trying to converse above the music and keying each other's phone numbers into cell phones. It's a desperate game. Every contact could mean business.
Waitpeople with leg tattoos and too-short skirts plied silver trays: chicken balls glazed with sweet chilli, rice rolls tied up like parcels with dipping sauce, savoury pastries, and things you couldn't make out in the semi-darkness. The paper napkins were sensibly black because you can't see the smudge of chilli sauce when you mop it away from your face.
Things were bad, was the general consensus. Are you busy? No. It is seasonal? Who knows. You could blame anything from the new financial year to the global credit crisis (has sub-prime become prime?) to the previous government. Because no matter what else happens in the world, there is always a previous government. Like blaming your parents. It makes you feel warm and secure.
More chilli balls and wings and spring rolls went past and more drinks were poured and the networking conversation got louder because someone had decided to turn the music up even higher. I hate bars.
Someone came in from the cold. He had come from another bar across the road where striking Fairfax journalists were gathering. He was a freelancer; had been working on a story to appear in the weekend papers. He wasn't sure if it would run because he had heard the Saturday Age might not be published. I would be very surprised if the paper were not to appear at all.
Seven editors ago, The Age was to be a national paper based in Melbourne. Instead, it became an inner urban paper with too many add-ons, too much cool and not enough news. It's easy to criticise The Age but the truth is Melbourne needs a paper like The Age more than ever. We once had the morning Sun and the evening Herald and both were good at what they did. They merged, and eighteen years later the Herald Sun is a B-grade celebrity shock rag printed on the back of Coles and Safeway advertising. Hey - there's a man going down in a plane and about to die. Hold the front page and blow up the photo! You can practically see him screaming in the cockpit.
All right, The Age ran the picture too. But you know what I mean.
Politically, The Age can only go in one direction. It's like when you're standing on the north pole.
Other than that, I expect The Age to go tabloid. Literally, not figuratively.