The Bar Tab: At Manny’s, 1 great feature, 1 big bummer

Manny's

Mr. Bitters and Olive

At Manny’s, Mr. Bitters and Olive were smitten by the display of frozen deliciousness.

Readers, have you ever had a really good slushy? One that’s not too syrupy, with a smooth texture and no discernible ice chunks? Did it have alcohol in it? If not, shame on you.

Our first visit to Manny’s happened last summer. We were driving home to the West End and got a little thirsty. We decided to rehydrate at Manny’s Sports and Entertainment, located at 4130 King Ave. W.

As we walked through the front door, we noted first that the room seemed brightly lit for a bar. Although this detracted from a let-loose, night-out party atmosphere, at least dim lighting couldn’t be blamed for a beer goggles-fueled mistake. We could forgive the fluorescence, so we continued in.

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Behind the bar, we soon identified the best feature of Manny’s: the bank of slushy machines. Like wanderers in the desert, we salivated as we approached this wondrous sight. In our opinion, Nutty’s in Sioux Falls, S.D., will always be the best slushy bar in the northern United States, but we are always looking for a competitor.

Scanning the bar, we also noted numerous televisions, a plethora of high-top tables, additional tables on a platform to the left of the entrance, a large inviting patio, a jukebox and a kitchen toward the back.

It’s important to note that this review spans a couple of visits, but on our initial visit, Manny’s had one particular feature that set it above the rest: Skee-Ball.

Perhaps you are familiar with Skee-Ball from your misspent youth, where you plugged tokens into machines to collect tickets. Background music was provided by a robot band fronted by an animatronic mouse. At the end of the day, you traded your winnings for dollar store toys to be thrown away immediately upon returning home (once the cotton candy high wore off, that is).

If you are unfamiliar, the premise is simple, but we will quote Holden McNeil of the film “Chasing Amy”: “You roll the ball up the ramp at varying speeds, in an effort to pop it into the score circles.” He then adds, “It’s like Spanish fly.” Actual results may vary.

We made our way to the machine, deposited our money (games were 50 cents), and rolled. If you score high enough you can win additional rounds and bragging rights with your name recorded on the leaderboard. We were apparently out of practice, but it served as a nice way to pass the time while we enjoyed our frozen treats.

This was our first impression of the bar, and we left happy. It had all the makings of a unique hangout—plus, what kid from the ’90s wouldn’t enjoy Skee-Ball, slushies, neon lights and televisions?

When we decided to begin writing this series of bar reviews, we knew we needed to return to Manny’s to give it a proper inspection. We chose to go back in the heat of football season, since Mr. Bitters assumed a combination of ’90s nostalgia and his favorite sport would be an obvious winner.

Akin to George’s Costanza’s attempt to combine food and sex, this would be the ultimate experience. But much like George, we found that perhaps we “flew too close to the sun on wings of pastrami.”

When we re-entered Manny’s, it was much like we left it. Neon lights, loud music and slushy machines were all present. The bar was filled with fans of various teams who took their respective spots throughout the bar.

Manny’s seemed to be the bar for misfit sports fans. For instance, while Broncos fans may congregate at Tiny’s—well let’s be fair; in this town Broncos fans congregate everywhere—Manny’s seemed to be the gathering spot of every other franchise. Given the size of the building, groups had plenty of room to spread out and celebrate/commiserate with their cohorts.

We again took seats at the bar and decided to try a beverage beyond the frozen variety. Their beer selection covered most of the domestics, which seemed to be what the crowd congregated toward when taking a break from slushies.

They also had an assortment of micro cans and bottles, some of which are not typical for bars in Billings. We noted brews from the Front Brewing from Great Falls (which we recommend), but there was significantly less variety available for drafts. The wine selection is minimal but present; sommeliers will be disappointed.

There is a full bar with the typical spirits, and a wide selection of Pucker and other liqueurs. Readers, you know our views on Pucker. While slushies are certainly their most popular drink, domestic light beer and sugary shots seemed to rule the roost otherwise.

We turned our attention to the slushy machines, half a dozen of which line the back of the bar. Through the glass portholes we could observe various concoctions spinning inside their frozen walls. Flavors ranged from Pina Colada to Banana (seriously?) to an aptly named Octane 190. Perhaps the name was a play on I-90, but based on the strength, we thought a proof rating was more likely.

Olive opted for a beer, and Mr. Bitters went for the kill—Octane 190. It was similar to a Hurricane, consisting of a clear liquor in vaguely orange-ish drink. Strong but tasty.

As we sipped our drinks we watched the bartenders and the kitchen at work. There was a decent crowd, and it kept the bartenders on their toes. There was not much food coming out of the kitchen, and what was delivered looked generic at best. We couldn’t identify a single item that didn’t rely heavily on a deep fryer.

The other patrons didn’t seem to mind, and were happy to drink their dinner. We soon grew a bit bored and decided to play some Skee-Ball. Alas, no.

We initially thought they must have moved the game. They could not possibly have eliminated one of their greatest features, we thought, but we looked around in vain. What penny pincher scrubbed the Skee-Ball? Even if it was a loss-leader, it still put asses in the seats, right? Perhaps some overzealous barfly used a ball as a weapon and the lawyers shut it down. In any event, it was gone.

This turn of fortunes upset us. One of the best features of the bar was eliminated. Manny’s is a large bar, and there’s definitely room for the machine. Readers, we have to say this is one of the more disappointing turn of events on our bar reviewing escapades.

With no Skee-Ball to distract us, we sat. Manny’s proved to be a great spot for football fans. There are plenty of TVs to provide direct viewing of multiple games from most seats in the bar. The various fan clubs cheered and yelled as they watched their teams. The booze flowed and we found ourselves immersed in another sports bar in a town with dozens of sports bars.

We decided it was time to move on and paid our tab. The drinks are reasonably priced and about what you would expect. For our money the slushies are the way to go, and offer the only feature that still sets Manny’s apart.

Pros:
Slushies.
Lots of room for groups.
Great for simultaneous game watching.

Cons:
Harsh lighting.
Generic (but for slushies).
No Skee-Ball (we continue to live in the past).

Previous reviews

Chapter 1The Squire Lounge.

Chapter 2The Alpine Casino.

Chapter 3Buck’s Bar.

Chapter 4Stadium Club.

Chapter 5Bones Arcade.

Chapter 6Southern Empire Emporium.

Chapter 7The Holiday Inn.

Chapter 8The Tap Inn.

Chapter 9Fiddler’s Green.

Chapter 10The Den.

Chapter 11CJ’s Bar and Grill.

Chapter 12The Reno Club.

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