The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Meet the man who chronicled his heart-breaking love story … in Yelp reviews

Chase Compton at New York’s Cafe Mogador, the first place he “reviewed” on Yelp. (Nick Vorderman)

Chase Compton met “the love of his life” at Von, a low-key cocktail bar and dance club on Bleecker Street in New York’s Bowery. A year later, long after they’d broken up, Compton returned to tell the story of that night — on Von’s Yelp page, of all places.

Compton, a 31-year-old restaurant manager in the West Village, is no Yelp devotee. (“It’s ironic,” he acknowledged. “The Yelpers aren’t my people.”) But after an intense, tumultuous nine-month relationship that left him depressed and directionless — and that played out, largely, in local restaurants and bars — Compton decided to tell his story through a series of short, non-chronological essays on Yelp.

It’s a novel and somewhat subversive use of the popular review site, which thrives on cut-and-dry, crowdsourced ratings of things like food and ambiance.  Since he started in December, Compton has written 20 such “reviews,” chronicling a relationship that began last March and had just about disintegrated by the New Year. (He still gives every establishment five stars.)

“It’s strange — in New York, so many love stories unfold in bars and restaurants,” Compton said. “I imagine in a lot of other places, that melodrama takes place in people’s homes. But in New York, those places are part of your home, they’re part of your day-to-day life.”

That’s actually a sentiment that resonates far from the West Village: Who doesn’t have that particular date-night restaurant — or ice cream stand or dive bar or coffee shop — that feels shadowed by memories?

“Café Mogador is ‘our place,’” He writes, in his first post, of their favorite breakfast spot, a Moroccan restaurant in Alphabet City. “Days I’m not there, I picture my table out there goes completely unseated. Surely my ghost haunts it, hand in hand with his ghost, eating ghost merguez as fast as we can.”

Compton and his ex made a striking couple, too, said Emily Brown, a bartender at the craft beer bar Rabbit Club who served the couple several times. They were “scary handsome,” both thin and pale with “dark, structured features.” They dressed well. They tipped well. They acted “so nice.”

“They seemed crazy in love,” Brown said. “I think I saw them the night before they broke up. I wouldn’t have guessed anything was wrong — except once, when [Compton’s ex] went to the bathroom, and he said there was ‘trouble in paradise’ and they were trying to work it out.”

But readers know, from the beginning of Compton’s reviews, that their “working it out” doesn’t work. What started as brunch dates and romantic dinners quickly dissolves into something darker: tearful public fights that make the waitresses nervous, long apologies outside the New York Public Library, an abrupt hotel stay in Compton’s home state, California, where he flees to escape the pain of an inevitable break-up.

Although they loved the same bars and restaurants, Compton says, he and “the one” ultimately didn’t share a key trait: Compton wanted to commit, and his partner didn’t.

“I’ve lived on what I consider to be the best street in all of Manhattan for almost four years now,” he writes in a review of the Minetta Tavern, a bistro on his street. “In the winter, it was the scene of what I assumed would be the last time I ever saw Him … I would always think of the summer, and not the winter that I found that he was a liar and a cheat and didn’t want to commit to being in love with me.”

There are glimmers of redemption, though, in later reviews. Compton begins to go out by himself, and he stops automatically ordering two of everything. Most importantly, he starts writing the reviews. The 31-year-old waiter, who moved to New York when he turned 18 and never went to college, had always planned to write. His failure to get published or break into that industry contributed, he says, to the relationship’s end.

Now he’s getting e-mails from people all over the world — broken hearts in Paris, middle-aged moms in the Midwest — who have read his reviews. Brown, who read Compton’s review of Rabbit Club after her boss spotted it on the bar’s Yelp page, is one of his early fans. And Compton, who plans to keep writing this kind of personal narrative on Yelp, is looking for other places to publish his work.

“Every meal I had with him was the best meal of my life,” Compton said. “The food tasted better. The drinks tasted stronger … It’s not how I wanted the story to end.

“But the story goes on, and I hope to write a happy ending.”