Breakup Joints

Anyone can think of a romantic spot to dine on Valentine’s Day, but finding the right restaurant to leave your lover is another story


I’M NOT A GOOD dumper. I have no style. Well, at least not the kind of style you might expect from a woman who has had as many husbands as you have fingers on your right hand.

When it is time for me to check out of a relationship, I am gone. Not always gracefully, not always politely, but gone. I am not inclined to hang around for weeks planning a dramatic exit.

Nevertheless, I can certainly make a case for leaving a man with a lingering memory of me in black velvet and pearls, leaning over the candlelight to whisper, “This is our last night together, my darling—savor every moment.” For one thing, a person probably gets better divorce settlements this way.

Instead, I burn into his brain forever as wearing an oversized T-shirt and gym socks, standing in the week low of the Snoopy nightlight at 3 a.m. screaming: “You left the seat up for the last time, Buster! You’re outta here!”

An old movie with that suave French guy in it taught me the proper way for a gentleman to break the bad news to a lady. He buys her jewelry, gives it to her over an expensive dinner at the swankiest joint in town, and tells her with a catch in his voice that she is too good for him—the theory being that she won’t dare shriek at him in an elegant restaurant, so he gets to sneak away unscathed.

Of course, that leading man never dated a girl with an Irish temper, or he would’ve been wearing his pasta for a tie. Still, breaking the bad news over dinner has its strong points as a method. It seems civilized, adult, and somewhat elegant. And it has an air of well-considered finality to it, as opposed to the strategy of hopping out of a moving car 400 miles from home in a snit, which pretty much forces you to have an anti-climactic reunion 10 minutes later so you don’t have to walk home.

To save yourself humiliation, then, while purposely inflicting it on someone else, consider the following guide to untying the knot while dining in public:

  • Do not go to your favorite restaurant. You will never be able to return there without weeping into your arugula.
  • Absolutely, positively, pick up the tab. She who dumps must pay.
  • Avoid vegetarian restaurants. Vegans are so sensitive, they will side the underdog and glare you throughout dinner.
  • Get a table by the bathroom in case you start crying.
  • Get a table by the back door in case he starts crying.

So, where do you go to do the dirty deed? Here are a few restaurant recommendations for the big chill.

If he is likely to make a scene, try the Black Forest Inn. It’s dark and noisy enough to disguise the histrionics, and after he storms out you can fill up on comfort food like bratwurst and apple strudel. The live jazz at Café Luxembourg can also mask a fight, and if the accusatory tone of the conversation keeps you nodding your head (“Yes, I was a jerk back then”), it’ll just look like you are in the groove. At the Café Un Deux Trois, order steak tartare—it’s hard to hurl across the table. If you throw in the towel at the California Café, you can console yourself with an immediate megamall shopping spree.

Avoid breaking up a carousel, the restaurant at the top of the St. Paul Radisson. It’s too much of a bummer to get dumped at a place where people are regularly proposed to, and besides, the darn place revolves so much that it’s a tricky place to make a smooth exit—the landmarks keep shifting. Pronto serves desserts deliciously crowned with foot-high needles of caramelized sugar. Dramatic looking, yes, but it’s probably wiser to order gelato, lest ye be skewered during your closing argument. The baguettes at Chez Collette taste great, but when you bite into them they snap, crackle, pop, and rain down your dress—adorable on the first date, but ridiculous-looking during a breakup.

Order the flaming specialties at Christos or Nicklow’s, and when the waiters yell “Oopa!” you can segue smoothly into “Just like us, baby—up in flames.” About the worst damage you can do at the Malt Shop is to shoot drinking-straw wrappers at each other. If you’re really thinking ahead, you’ll dump him at a single’s hangout like Lord Fletcher’s, and find another date before you get to the door. If you need enough time to blame him for every disappointment you’ve experienced since birth, go to Goodfellows, where everyone lingers, anyway. At the Hunan Garden, wait until he goes to the restroom and then tell the waitress he wants his Szechuan beef really hot. At Kabuki, you can get your own private rice paper-walled room to throw a tantrum in, but when you leave you have to hop on one foot to put your shoes back on, which rather spoils the effect. If all else fails, try a breakup by beef—after a few pounds of red meat at Murray’s, Morton’s, or Manny’s, he will be moving so slowly you can be on the freeway before he knows what hit him.

But perhaps the best place in town to break up is at the St. Paul Grill. Sit in a booth for privacy. Stare out the window at Rice Park while looking morose and mysterious. Drown your sorrows in terrific food and chocolate. And come back often to pout and mope.

Hey, breaking up is hard to do, especially around February 14. You have my sympathy. Over the years, I have been divorced on Christmas, rejected on my birthday, dumped on the first anniversary, and made into a basket case on Easter.

So what am I doing on Valentine’s Day? Eating in.


This appeared in Minnesota Monthly, February 1997, pp. 28-29.



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