Last Friday I attended my first Yelp event. Unsure of what to expect I felt a little like feminist bookstore owners Toni and Candace when they sought to write their first Yelp review. Minneapolis is the new Portlandia, right? Oh, that reference is so last year.
Yelp Du Nord brought a thousand Yelpies, (er Yelpers? Yelpsters?) to the American Swedish Institute where we drank and ate and danced our way through the Nelson Cultural Center, toured the mansion, and toasted tasty marshmallows with some really nice Nordic snow people. The whole point of Yelp is for common people to share their dining, entertainment, and service experiences with each other. Need a helpful suggestion on where to find the best trivia night in Minneapolis? Ask Yelp. Visiting an unfamiliar city and want to know where the locals eat? Yelp will help with their “social networking and user reviews.”
I’ve always been a little leery of Joe and Joanne Citizen sending their food reviews out into the world without the benefit of a journalist’s experience or a thorough understanding of what it takes to run a restaurant. A blog is a blog is a blog. It isn’t the same thing as journalism. But I am warming to online services like Yelp where the collective experience outweighs a dining blogger with an agenda.
Events like Yelp Du Nord or the Beer Dabbler are upfront about what and why they are. Participants get to interact with a variety of local vendors at reduced prices (often free) with the hope that after the event participants will seek out those vendors and eventually send a review to Yelp. Sort of a marketing party for the masses, a Tupperware party for the cool cats and scenesters.
Arriving at ASI I had to rub my eyes a bit to get over the spectacle. The lights were dimmed, music was pounding, herds and hordes of beautiful people walked around with cocktails and disco rings. It reminded me of the Easter Egg hunts we have in the mansion each year, where a hundred kids wreak havoc searching for eggs among the priceless museum pieces, crawling across exhibits, and having an awesome time. If the point of a museum and cultural center is to welcome the public: Goal Achieved.
Out in the courtyard a bonfire raged, fire batons twirled, a Sami lavvu beckoned, and the S’mores-gasbord bar (you read that correctly) was open for business. St. Croix Chocolate Company offered so many marshmallow options that I am hopeful they will add flavored marshmallows to their line. Inside the Cultural Center we sampled amazing canapes from FIKA, amazing tacos from Vellee Deli, amazing cocktails from my favorite local aquavit distillery Gamle Ode (via Nick from Eat Street Social), Swedish pancakes (please oh please add them to the menu Bryant Lake Bowl), Eichten’s bison ragu and great conversation about local ingredients from Gnocchi Me, oysters from Barbette, little take-home bags of chocolate chip cookies (and a drink coupon) from Common Roots. OK there was more – a lot more. Wow. How on earth did we cram so much good stuff into a two hour tour? And the price of a ticket was a donation to One Heartland. Not a bad way to spend a winter night in Minnesota, cavorting with other lovers of fun. I am not the only Minnesotan who loves the cold.