Yelping It Up

Back when I had a BlackBerry, the first app I loaded after, was Yelp. It’s been my go-to app ever since.

When Miss Mary and I hit the road for two weeks to catch up with Mark Baumer on his walk across America during July of 2010, Yelp never steered us wrong on food or lodging. Nineteen states and 4,600 road tripping miles is a good test of any apps mettle–Yelp passed with flying colors.

Yelp keeps your beer cold.

Yelp keeps your beer cold.

I’m still amazed by how many people I talk with who don’t know about Yelp. Come on people; get with the program!!

For those people, here is a short synopsis from an article about Yelp I wrote for The Motley Fool

Yelp is an online review site founded in 2004, designed to provide free, detailed information and user reviews about a broad range of local businesses, restaurants, retailers, home service providers, etc. Yelp generates revenue by charging a CPM (cost per thousand impressions)-based subscription fee to local businesses who want to advertise on its site. Yelp had an average of approximately 117 million monthly unique visitors, according to third quarter reports, and Yelpers have written over 47 million local reviews. The bottom line is that Yelp elicits passion from its fans.

Count me among them.

My son and wife laugh and then, laughter turns to annoyance when we’re looking to eat somewhere, or check out some other local attraction and I’m like, “we can’t go.” Of course, they know why–crappy review on Yelp. Or perhaps not a bad choice for food, but the JBE has discovered a kindred spirit reviewer and they don’t like something about a place that he knows he won’t like. So Yelp saves the day, again.

As much as I enjoy the reviews of others, the democracy of Yelp appeals to me and my proclivities to write about what I experience–I actually get to do reviews, too. And I do.

Because of the energy I’ve invested in Yelp, I was selected as an Elite Yelper at the tail-end of 2013. I’ve made the grade again in 2014. For me, I’m excited. It’s nice to have the little badge, but more important, I’ve discovered a community of my own.

Yelp decided to bring a community manager on-board last year. I remember seeing the position advertised and thought about applying. I didn’t because I thought they needed someone a wee bit younger and way more hipper than me. I was thrilled when I found out that a friend and fellow Maine writer was hired for the position.

Steff Deschenes is what I thought a community manager should be. She brings her usual energy, perkiness, and love of food and writing about it. I mean, shouldn’t your community manager be someone writes about food every day and takes pictures of herself eating food that is usually something she’s made? That’s Steff.

While Portland is the hub of Yelp’s Maine review community, there was no way to connect beyond the virtual world, except by accident or chance. Steff’s changed all that.

Yelp keeps your hands warm.

Yelp keeps your hands warm.

We’ve had several Community Manager Yelp Events (CMYE), including one last night at Gingko Blue.

I ventured into the city a bit early to attend another tech/app/people event hosted by a well-known local social media guru. They happen monthly and I’ve been to these once before. I figured I could hit this and then swing over to Gingko Blue for the real event of the night with my Yelp gang.

The first event was held at a new place people have been buzzing about, Portland Hunt & Alpine Club. If you read the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram’s food column by Mr. Golden Dish himself, and the reviews on Yelp, then you already know it’s a place that seems to break by demographic; if you are on the young side of 30, you like it. If like me, you are a few years past thirty-something, you won’t. I didn’t and won’t be back. I’m also guessing Portland Hunt & Alpine will go the way of many other flavor of the month eateries/bars that come and go in this city’s big merry-go-round of hipness and being whatever’s the current big deal.

Everything wrong with the event at the first place; too loud, too crowded, too clique-ey, bartenders who didn’t care or pour a decent drink, no appetizers (are popcorn and bread considered appetizers at over-priced bars in Portland now?) was flipped at Gingko Blue.

Walking in, I knew I was in a place with a like-minded crowd. I liked the space immediately. Lit, but not too bright. A rectangular room with the bar to the left, seating to the right and beyond the bar area. Later, a band was to be playing, and they’d be set up in the back.

Since I was there just before 7:00, happy hour was still happening, which meant $3.00 draughts. In Portland, anything sub-$5.00 seems like a steal these days. Later, I switched to a cocktail. I went with Cider House Rules (lit-themed drinks are Gingko Blue’s thing). The bartender, a young man of probably 30, knew his drinks, and also knew how to make his customers feel welcomed and appreciated.

Steff presided over the CMYE with her usual attentiveness and aplomb. I don’t know this for sure, but I’m guessing that everyone that comes to a Yelp event feels like Steff is their best friend. She always manages to make people feel like they are welcome at a Yelp gathering. That right there goes a long way towards any gathering’s success. Since that’s so important, I’m not quite sure why other groups haven’t figured that one out, yet.

Yelp means community.

Yelp means community.

On a cold January night in the midst of an interminable Maine winter, a gathering of kindred souls (including meeting some new Yelpers), a comfortable, welcoming space, good food and drink, and some great music went a long way to taking the edge of the season’s chill. I’m going to write more about my experience at Gingko Blue, but you’ll have to read my review on Yelp. You can check out my other reviews on the site, as I have more than 100 of them posted.

I’ll close by saying that Gingko Blue is a place I’m coming back to. Oh, and the band, Octane, absolutely killed it. Led by guitarist Mike James Hayward, Octane recreates jazz and swing standards filtered through Hayward’s own unique interpretation of the genre. They also play the best version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues “ I’ve ever heard; well, after Johnny’s.

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