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Reviewing jail on Yelp

An emerging genre:

“When I would shower, I would take my clothes and wash them, people thought it was funny, but it was really a way for me not to get my own clothes robbed being there was no jump suits,” [Jason A.] wrote in a 1-star review of Rikers. “Food tasted like wet noodles and grill gristle…. I later learned to get a muslim halal card, and a jewish card, and know the kitchen staff to see which card would get me a better meal for the day.”…

In reviewing the Wayne County Jail, Athena Kolbe, a Detroit social worker, says her aim was twofold: first, she wanted potential visitors to “be prepared for it mentally when you go into it.” Second, “when you come out of it, know that all that disrespect you experienced, everybody else is also experiencing that. It’s not just you.”

This is what you need to know might be the best feature of any good review, and is arguably most essential when you don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. Not just jails, but hospitals, homeless shelters, emergency psychiatric services โ€” there is a fair amount of official information, and there has always been informal word-of-mouth, but not many opportunities to get frank advice or to tell your story. Not much to make the experience anything but lonely and terrifying.

Unusual Yelp reviews

For Gourmet, Todd Levin imagines the Yelp reviews for the world’s worst restaurant, Mama Mia That’s Italyen Authentic Food Cafรฉ.

I was planning on suing this restaurant but kept driving past it. Later, the mold in my ravioli also triggered a rare neurological disorder called “Geoagnosia.” It’s an inability to recognize or remember familiar places, like my home or office.


And Cormac McCarthy of all people has a Tumblr where he posts his Yelp reviews of places ranging from Taco Bell to Chez Panisse. Here’s his three-star review of a Cheesecake Factory in Houston, TX:

There were a variety of cakes and sweet things there. The desserts paraded by in their desperate decadence, at once a fading and colorless memory.

A Bavarian chocolate cake stood apart, on a simple plate. Like a rancher’s wife it was seasoned by hardships and nature’s brutal arithmetic. Flourless, it awaited a lonely fate.

A Tiramisu teetered like the oldest prostitute in a mining town, reeking of saccharine liqueur. The faint scent of virtue lost amid the hellish musk of ten thousand outrages.

A torte, covered in glistening fruit, a lie as old as memory. Its flavor joyless, a pyrrhic dessert atop a mountain of meaningless artifice. Hasn’t been real sugar in this torte since before the highway was built here. Since before the first settlers came through with bibles and Henry rifles. The slow mockery of corn syrup.

He reached for the Tiramisu with a hand that had been dried by the sun and wind and bathed in the steaming blood of another human being. All that now was behind him.

Update: Yelping With Cormac found its way into The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2013.