Re: The Yelp of Invisible Cities

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Ha, Chancery is pretty good.

I was trying to put my finger on what is annoying to me about my local paper's architecture critic, and I came up with two things. First is the fact that she lards up sentences with so many adjectives and modifiers that they are genuinely cumbersome to read.

Second, and more to the point, they overwhelmingly feel like I (as a stand-in for readers in general) am not the audience. She's apparently writing for people she knows and wants to think well of her.

The same thing with restaurant reviews. There should be a Sam Goldwyn behind every reviewer to make sure that they are actually speaking to the community they serve. Otherwise, ech.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 7:45 PM
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I dunno, eventually the restaurants are going to catch on that the diners with Sam Goldwyn standing behind them are reviewers.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 7:47 PM
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Every restaurantgoer will be issued his or her own personal Sam Goldwyn.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 7:50 PM
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There should be a satire on "Howl" called "Yelp" but I'm not the one to write it.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 8:35 PM
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That was me.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 8:36 PM
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I only read the restaurant reviews in the local free weekly.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 9:16 PM
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Aton, somewhere, was crying, whimpering horribly like a terribly frightened child. 'Stars -- all the Stars -- we didn't know at all. We didn't know anything. We thought Stars in a review were something the experts decided. The walls are breaking down and we didn't know we couldn't know and anything -- '

On the horizon outside the window, in the direction of the City, a crimson glow began growing, strengthening in brightness, that was not the glow of a sun.

The long night had come again.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 9:21 PM
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Surely this has been linked here before. One of my favorites.


Posted by: Merganser | Link to this comment | 09- 7-14 10:17 PM
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She's apparently writing for people she knows and wants to think well of her.

Yes, this. It's a characteristic déformation professionnelle of middlebrow criticism, and it's little better than the overt whoring for advertisers / junket sponsors that is newspaper reviews of cars and movies these days.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 4:30 AM
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Does anyone have a source they comfortably rely on for restaurant reviews? I have come to the conclusion that they all suck. Yelp sucks because most people aren't very discerning. Zagat likewise, only with spurious significant digits. Glossy food magazines suck because they are all about trendy. High-middlebrow publications like the New Yorker suck for the reason Witt cites. Local publications suck each in their own way. Michelin sucks because it is largely evaluating things I don't value very highly (partial exception noted for the Guide Rouge in France itself).

How does one find places with good food and good value in an unfamiliar place, apart from using one's own instincts? Fleur and I once met a couple while dining out at a good place we stumbled upon. They were both chefs, and they said they seek out restaurants when traveling by searching google maps with the search string "restaurants 'locally sourced'". That seems pretty useful as far as it goes, but I fear that the "locally sourced" shibboleth will trickle down into the mainstream of mediocre restaurants before long, if it hasn't already. Also, that technique only turns up a particular kind of good restaurant (the SWPL kind), while overlooking, for example, the awesome fried chicken joint.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 4:53 AM
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10: Chowhound.


Posted by: Bran Muffin | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 4:59 AM
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Shorter kr: Life sucks because other people.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:06 AM
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In London I tend to use food or local blogs. There's a blog which reviews breakfast joints and another that did mainly chippies, although the latter stopped posting a couple of years back.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:09 AM
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Chowhound seconded


Posted by: Benquo | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:16 AM
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It's been several years since I went to restaurants regularly, but I found Zagat to be pretty good. But I usually found three or four places that sounded good on Zagat, and then checked for recent, longer write-ups on Chowhound. Chowhound by itself is a lot of maddening lists of Go here! without any description or explanation as to why.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:26 AM
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I should give chowhound a chance. I looked at it briefly a few years ago, and the opinions calibrated poorly against places I knew. so I never really used it in unfamiliar territory. But you know, faute de mieux.

I find that crowdsourced reviews like yelp can be valuable inasmuch as a place that gets consistently negative reviews (or where the only positive reviews are obvious shills) is almost certainly bad, so you at least know to avoid those.



Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:33 AM
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I find yelp pretty damn unhelpful--either high-maintenance dickheads looking for an excuse to complain about the TERRIBLE service, or undiscriminating homers who say they love crap. Zagat seems like a much better crowdsourcing model.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:39 AM
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I found Zagat to be pretty good

I have found Zagat to be especially dubious in places like the suburbs of Chicago, where everyone seems to be inexplicably generous to the "nice" restaurant in their own suburb. Something about a combination of misplaced municipal pride and cognitive bias that causes people to pronounce something delightful because they just spent a lot of money on it.



Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:41 AM
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17 nicely captures the essence of yelp.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:44 AM
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Ah, yes. You have to discount suburban reviews appropriately. A 25 suburbs is not a 25 city. A suburban place is good only if you see something like "worth the trip" in the review.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:45 AM
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I use Urban Spoon, but pretty much purely as a check against awfulness, per 16.2. Beyond that, I've developed a fairly keen ability to guess, based on menu and (when available) website/FB page whether a place will be worthwhile. But a lot has gone into developing that ability, so it's not especially transferable.

6 is very wise.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:28 AM
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The curve for Chicago suburbs is a big one - I apply the same curve to places much more rural. Just go to the city for food unless you're looking for something very particular. I kind of hate Zagat reviews. They rarely have clear menu suggestions, and there's little way to determine whether you'll show up and find a mom & pop diner or a scene-driven locally sourced small plates communal tables type of place. Instead, it's a "delicious" "food-oriented" "restaurant" that both "locals" and "travellers" "just adore."


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:29 AM
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Actually, have I complained here about the critic in the main local paper? She's new(ish), young(ish), and drives me nuts in so many ways. Big picture, she's an absolute starfucker of a critic, all about this visionary chef and that life-altering cocktail program overseen by so-and-so. She came here from DC (not sure where she's from originally), and she's made an obvious effort to suss out the landscape here (which is great), but she thinks she understands it better than she does, which is annoying (she'll pronounce with great authority but not actual correctness).

But what fucking kills me is that her prose is awful. Clunky sentences, inept phrasing, inapt metaphor, and a clumsy hand at evocative detail. There have been pieces so bad that I couldn't actually get through 900 words or whatever. They've added emphasis to the food/dining section, so it's not that no one at the paper cares about what she's doing, yet somehow this crap makes it into print.

Meanwhile, I feel churlish about all this, because it reads so readily as professional jealousy. But I never minded any of her predecessors, one of whom was also kind of crummy.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:40 AM
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Now that I think of it, the bad critic is probably trying to match the style of the reviews sent up in Tables for One (a style I dislike), and doing it badly (which no one likes).

Oh, and I left this one off my list: I don't think she has a particularly discerning palate. Some of that is de gustibus, of course, but I simply don't get the sense that she's judging food very well, mostly because she esteems markers of good food more than actual good food.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:45 AM
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No having a discerning palate has saved me so many thousands of dollars.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:48 AM
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They were advertising a sandwich at Arby's I was going to ask you about, but now I don't recall which one.

The pulled pork at Firehouse Subs is quite good*, but there's not one near me, so it doesn't really matter.

*superb by chain standards, and pretty good by genuine BBQ standards


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:51 AM
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They were advertising a sandwich at Arby's I was going to ask you about, but now I don't recall which one.

I'm guessing it was the roast beef sandwich.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:52 AM
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I haven't been to Arby's in a while. It isn't actually cheap. Also, they moved me to the other side of Oakland.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:54 AM
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cocktail program

10 PRINT "COCKTAIL"
20 GOTO 10


Posted by: Nathan Williams | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:55 AM
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I have a very nice view of the strip of the East End that runs from St. Paul's to the water tower up by the abandoned VA hospital above Washington Blvd.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:57 AM
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29: 15 LIFE = LIFE + 1


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:23 AM
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Damn, I forgot my BASIC syntax.

15 LET LIFE = LIFE + 1


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:26 AM
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30: That is a nice view.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:28 AM
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For Chicago specifically, LTH Forum is pretty reliable (I believe the site was the product of a schism in the local Chowhound) - particularly for cheap/ethnic/divey places.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:31 AM
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I've found Chowhound totally unusable for about the last 5 years (before that I used to use it regularly). If "Serious Eats" does something about cheap food in your city it is sually pretty good. Sometimes I've looked at "Eater" which is mind of annoying but will often have useful lists (helpfully, with maps). But mostly I solved the problem by either just going to steakhouses or letting my wife pick where we eat.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:17 AM
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I've decided that it's more pleasant to just set three twenty-dollar bills on fire, buy a nice cut of beef, and grill it myself rather than go out to another steakhouse ever again.


Posted by: Tom Scudder | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:22 AM
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35: whereas I've found Chowhound consistently useful. The best meal of my trip to Paris last year was at a place I found there.

Yelp, OTOH, is mostly only useful for telling you if a place really sucks.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:25 AM
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36: You can use pretty much any paper to start charcoal on fire if you have a chimney starter.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:26 AM
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I've found Yelp pretty useful for answering the question of what's in my immediate vicinity. Chowhound's format doesn't work very well for questions like that (nor does the tendency of members to say things like "well this restaurant in the outer Sunset is decent I suppose but what you REALLY want is this other place in Sunnyvale").


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:44 AM
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"What is in my immediate vicinity that doesn't really suck" seems like the single most useful question a restaurant app can answer.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:46 AM
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re: 40

Just a big button 'FOOD!' and a single SWIPL dial/slider.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:53 AM
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"What is in my immediate vicinity that doesn't really suck" seems like the single most useful question a restaurant app can answer.

Aren't there a billion apps that purport to do that? I have about 7 on my phone as it is and most of them I didn't even get for that purpose.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:57 AM
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the tendency of members to say things like "well this restaurant in the outer Sunset is decent I suppose but what you REALLY want is this other place in Sunnyvale Xi'an"


Posted by: Mr. Blandings | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:58 AM
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41 is the greatest idea in the history of ideas.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:59 AM
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41: it should be called iAudrey.

"FEED ME NOW!"


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:01 AM
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If you are watching your calorie intake, then it will track them and, when you press the FOOD button, a sign will light up reading "PLEASE DO NOT PRESS THIS BUTTON AGAIN".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:02 AM
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I actually find Yelp useful, but that's probably because I skim for useful (to me) info and disregard the evaluative stuff.

I try to make my own as specific as possible so people can gauge whether they share my biases or not. Sometimes my own reviews get marked "Funny" which is odd since there is AFAICT nothing funny about them. I do appreciate it when people mark mine "Useful."


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:09 AM
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41 is a great interface idea. The problem is getting the data. People review on Yelp because it gives them a chance to "express" "themselves."


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:10 AM
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43: My understanding is that to the average SFian Xi'an is slightly more accessible.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:12 AM
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41 is a great interface idea. The problem is getting the data.

You do realise Facebook is basically a giant SWPL database, right?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:27 AM
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47: Specificity is sort of innately funny. That kind of thing happens to me fairly frequently -- I'm trying to be precise and people react as if I were being witty.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:30 AM
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People review on Yelp because it gives them a chance to "express" "themselves."

Yes precisely, and I wish whichever bozo decided that it would be possible to rate reviews on any other dimension that usefulness would be executed. I don't want you to try to be funny!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:43 AM
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We can probably do it via some kind of mining/harvesting into a Solr index, with weighting for certain key words like 'artisanal' and 'grass-fed'.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:46 AM
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A suburban place is good only if you see something like "worth the trip" in the review.

This is such an excellent point that it should be standard on food review sites. How far would you travel?

LA has excellent food reviewers. Pulitzer-prize-winning LAT food critic Jonathan Gold's list is excellent and wildly varied on location, ethnicity and price. While it's started to concentrate around schmancy stuff in WeHo, you can still find hand-cut noodles in San Gabriel or mole in Pacoima. Eater LA is very good, too, and both have maps. Also there are tons of dudes with taco blogs, which while not objectively reliable have the enjoyable quality of knowing that someone went to more trouble than just posting on yelp.

That said, between slow internet and hangry family, I couldn't identify a decent burrito joint near Encino in time yesterday and we went with Thai delivery. Not a terrible fate.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:57 AM
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This is such an excellent point that it should be standard on food review sites. How far would you travel?

(1) wouldn't even use the car
(2) would use the car, but wouldn't bother checking the tires
(3) far enough that you want to make sure your tires are in good condition; may we suggest Michelin-brand tires?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:04 AM
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51: It's been noted.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:13 AM
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This is such an excellent point that it should be standard on food review sites. How far would you travel?

The Guide Michelin does this explicitly: "merite un détour" and "vaut le voyage".


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:16 AM
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55 to 57.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:16 AM
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54 -- Jonathan Gold is really consistently excellent. Also in the hospital btw, so send some prayers/good thoughts.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:17 AM
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Facebook is basically a giant SWPL database

You call Mark and get the data, and I'll design the app. You can have 30% of the gross for your incisive contribution, I'll take 70% for doing all the work, and we'll give ttaM a nice shout-out in the credits for coming up with the idea.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:17 AM
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60 -- and then I'll profit from Ttam's lawsuit. Everyone wins.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:19 AM
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11: 10: Chowhound.

I first assumed that this was an imprecation being hurled at knecht. Somehow tied to the pseud being "Bran Muffin."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:24 AM
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Also in the hospital btw

He tweeted within the day. You didn't just hit him with your fancy car, did you?


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:24 AM
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You call Mark and get the data, and I'll design the app

If you just use Facebook app authentication you don't even need to speak to Mark. That'll be 10% please.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:24 AM
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Although TFA say very occasional commenter.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:26 AM
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Not really practical in most instances and something I've only sort of used once*, but thought clever, was William Least Heat Moon's Blue Highways strategy of asking in the local library. Librarians know best about many useful and practical things.

*Was already in the library.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:38 AM
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I had very good luck with a foreign-language food app recently (the Slow Food guide in Italian, Osterie 2014).

Two reasons I think 1) nothing is more SWPL than foreign food discourse and 2) the language-learning mentality magically transforms what would annoy one in one's own language (over-descriptive, highly conventional prose) into a plus (build vocabulary, learn how real Italians put things)!

Not sure how to translate this wisdom for the US context though--maybe Michelin USA in French?.....nope, I see they only do NYC Bay Area & Chicago as yet.


Posted by: (damnit jim I'm a) lurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:28 PM
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Man, how serendipitous to read the Chancery one today, 4 years to the day after the old [Redacted] closed. Sad, sad. People crying. Love triangles. Fights. Regrettable hook-ups. Too much vomiting. And that was just the beer vendor! Oh well. Nothing lasts forever, even little bar/restaurants w/attached performance spaces.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:53 PM
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