The newly rebranded concept at the former No Way Jose Café in Federal Hill wants you to leave negative reviews on its Yelp and Facebook pages.
No, really — so much so, that it’s in the restaurant and bar’s new name.
Located at 38 E. Cross St., One Star Country Club will open to the public at 6 p.m. today, said general manager Don Messinese. The tongue-in-cheek name is the bar’s way to push back against Yelp culture, he said.
It’s a response to “people getting opinions based on the online-review platforms, getting an unfair look into the business before they actually walk through the door and check it out themselves,” Messinese said. “We wanted to do something where people come in and enjoy it, and not take it so seriously.”
Some patrons will even be rewarded, as the bar will give a complimentary happy hour to the author of the “most clever” one-star review each month.
One Star Country Club will look to maintain the same casual, neighborhood-hangout feel that No Way Jose had, but with a stronger emphasis on the relationship between bartenders and patrons, he said.
“The interaction between bartender and the customer, to me, has been lost quite a bit. You used to go to your bartender for advice,” Messinese said. “We don’t want to just put drinks across the bar and collect money.”
Messinese was admittedly vague about the food menu, saying he wants customers to come in and see for themselves. The bar will serve pub fare, he said, along with sandwiches and a burger. The menu will not offer any traditional entrees, he said.
“We like to think everything can be eaten with one hand,” Messinese said.
The bar’s house drink will be a traditional vodka-and-orange-juice screwdriver (known simply as the Driver, a nod to the golf aesthetic pulled from the country club inspiration). There’s also six taps with a couple Maryland beers (Union Craft Brewing, RAR Brewing to start).
So why the country club theme? Messinese said it’s to create a sense of “camaraderie, friendship [and] social interaction,” like the type you find during a round of golf with friends.
“For four or five hours you don’t have to look at your cell phone,” he said. “Nobody should be able to reach you, and you can just relax and have a good time.”
Still, the boldest — and riskiest — aspect of the new concept is the encouragement to leave one-star reviews online.
Asked if the one-star concept was an attempt to pre-emptively neutralize negative reviews, Messinese said, “in a sense, yes, whereas the business isn’t just based on one person’s opinion.” The decision was not based, he said, on No Way Jose’s Yelp score, which has a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. Instead, it’s a general reaction to a culture where everyone is a critic, he said. Messinese wants to encourage “direct contact so our customer reaches out to us.”
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“It’s being a little playful with the one-star reviews and not taking every single one of them so seriously,” he said. “There’s a lot of uncontrollable variables that happen in the bar business, and unfortunately, it impacts some people’s experience and it’s not always something the restaurant can control. To me, it’s pretty upsetting to see something like that that can hurt your reviews just by somebody that may not have personally enjoyed that type of cuisine.”