Confession: Despite living in Bushwick, Brooklyn for almost three years I’ve never explored the adjacent neighborhood of Bedstuy.
To put that into even clearer perspective, if I walk from my apartment for three minutes and 20 seconds I would reach Bedstuy; yet, aside for the rare times when I need to catch the G Train or have randomly biked through in transit, I know nothing about it.
That is, until today. Recently I was approached by Sean Langton, creator of Lokely App, a free iOS app focused on connecting travelers through chat — and sometimes in person, if the local agrees and has the time — and providing them recommendations from the people who know the area best. He wanted me to choose a neighborhood I didn’t know very well, but wanted to, and get to know it through the Lokely lens. Says Langton:
Lokely was born out of a personal travel experience I had in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was primarily using Yelp and TripAdvisor to get recommendations for things to do during my trip, but became frustrated with these platforms because there were too many options and it was difficult to determine which reviews were relevant to me. I also felt very disconnected from the city and its culture, because I wasn’t actually talking with a person living in BA.
Fortunately, I was connected to a group of local people by a mutual friend. I simply chatted with these locals, who gave me recommendations on nightlife, restaurants, shopping and more. It led to an incredible travel experience where I felt truly connected to the city because I acted on recommendations provided by local people. I arrived in BA as a tourist, but I experienced the city as if I was a local.
I wanted to build a platform where you could connect with local people to help you create authentic travel experiences in any city.
To get setup with the app, you’ll first create a profile (you don’t connect with Facebook like many apps, but manually enter your photo, name, age, location and short “about me” statement), and choose from 20 character traits that best describe you, like “Outdoorsy,” “Vegan” and “Film Buff.” Once set up, you’ll begin viewing nearby local experts, with those who have similar traits appearing higher, and can start chatting right away. These traits also act as filters when you search a location’s locals, meaning if you’re in Brooklyn and want art recommendations you can filter your search to have locals who consider themselves art experts to pop up first.
There’s also a rating and reviewing system in place that further helps you choose which locals you’d like to interact with.
And you don’t have to just choose one. My afternoon in Bedstuy consisted of recommendations from two different locals: a 28-year-old “outdoorsy, hippie, sound hound” named Corey D and a 25-year-old “artsy, wine-o, foodie” named Samuel D. They both provided me with a slew of suggestions for my three-hour walk, though many I jotted down for a later date.
How’s This Any Different From Yelp?
For those wondering what makes Lokely different from the local recommendations apps that already exist, there are a few key points:
- Lokely is based on chat, or, as Langton puts it, “conversation over content.” You’re actually chatting with a local to get advice vs perusing crowd-sourced reviews from locals and non-locals
- Lokely helps you find locals who have similar interests to you and are the same age
- Lokely locals can be tipped for providing good advice, which offers tangible incentives for them to do so and puts money back into the hands of the community you’re visiting
On Yelp, you could search for “coffee shops” in Brooklyn, NY and get over 10,000 listings. On Lokely, you can search for “caffeine addicts” in Brooklyn and just talk to someone to get a list of their favorite coffee shops. Local people have so much city knowledge, so they can help you quickly narrow down your search.
Interestingly, while both locals that helped plan my Bedstuy itinerary rated Stonefruit Espresso + Kitchen as one of their top three favorite neighborhood coffee shops (more on this below), this cafe is #27 on Yelp. That’s not to say the 26 coffee shops listed before Stonefruit aren’t also great, but it does illustrate the differences between Lokely and asking true locals for help vs turning to Yelp. Locals are tuned in to what’s good in their neighborhood, whether it’s new or old, or a guidebook has rated it or not. On the other hand, Yelp lags as venues need a number of great reviews before they get noticed.
9am: Fueling Up at Stonefruit Espresso + Kitchen
Location: 1058 Bedford Avenue; (718) 230-4147
Stonefruit is the type of place that calls for Tranquil PicMonkey filters. It’s a place where menu items are hand-written in journals and chalk boards sing about organic teas and seasonal drinks; where shelves offer used books and counters sell chocolate and candles from local companies. It’s a place where natural sunlight floods through giant open windows to illuminate wooden tables and planters showcasing home-grown ingredients.
Basically, it’s the perfect spot for a healthy and satisfying breakfast.
The menu only holds a few items — each made with wholesome, local and conscious ingredients — which is typically indicative of a place focusing on quality over quantity. If the other items are anything like my Avocado Smash, served on a thick slice of multigrain She Wolf Bakery sourdough and topped with mashed avocado and pickled shallots, dukkah seasoning a soft boiled farm-fresh egg for a fresh yet salty, crunchy yet creamy explosion, then it’s true. I’ll definitely be back for this meal, as well as the indoor/outdoor seating, strong Wi-Fi and adjoining community events/co-working space.
9:45am: Street Art & Ambience Immersion
While Bushwick‘s street art is very apparent — it’s hard to walk anywhere without finding yourself assaulted, in a good way, with bright murals, colorful references to pop culture and thought-provoking works — Bedstuy’s is more spread out. It exists and there is a lot; however, it’s more like a scavenger hunt, as you’ll wander beautiful brownstone-lined streets and suddenly stumble upon amazing works of al fresco art.
My favorite creative find of the day was undoubtedly the Biggie mural. How did the artists, whom I learned are named Naoufal Alaoui (aka Rocko) and Scott “Zimer” Zimmerman, get up so high and execute this with such precision? Pretty amazing. According to DNAinfo, the artists wanted to pay tribute to the rap artist in his old stomping grounds, and make sure that, while the neighborhood is changing, people don’t forget what it was and the people who lived here. Rocco told the publication:
…it’s my responsibility to make sure Brooklyn is still alive, and we have to keep it for what it’s known for, what we’re proud of. Brooklyn is Biggie.
10:30am: Coffee & Craft Beer at Bed-Vyne Brew
Location: 370 Tompkins Avenue; (347) 915-1080
I attempted to get a made-to-order wood fire oven pizza at Saraghina — which my Lokely local told me is the “best pizza in Brooklyn”; however, I was a bit too early for it. On the plus side, I did get to chat with one of the servers, who led me around the charmingly weathered, country-meets-industrial vibed bakery-restaurant-bar. The black exterior of the three-space venue is covered in white abstract sketches of peoples’ faces, text and lines, adding to the hipster ambiance. I will definitely be back for that pizza, as I’ve also heard there is a secret dough recipe involved.
For the time being, I headed over to Bed-Vyne Brew, a coffee shop by day (Subaltern Coffee hosts a semi-permanent pop up here), craft beer bar by night. They also serve pastries from Saraghina, and I absolutely loved their community spirit (which, by the way, seems to be growing in Bedstuy). I opted for a Puerto Rico-sourced pour over coffee, which was made in a Broadway production-style manner in front of a wall strung with growlers and java paraphernalia, two beautiful worlds of booze and beans colliding. I sipped my hot beverage while enjoying a silent black and white Turner Classic Movie.
11am: A Late-Morning Lunch at Lucha Lucha (+ Nearby Calorie Burn at Herbert Von King Park)
Location: 283 Nostrand Avenue; (718) 399-3696
Lucha Lucha is a quirky, fun Southern California-style Mexican eatery. The small but flavor-packed venue is littered with colorful Mexican wrestling masks — a nod to Lucha Libre, or professional Mexican wrestling — as well as small pepper-shaped fairy lights. The vibe of the space is homey; which makes sense, as the owner lives and works there. Tip: Get the chorizo tacos then head to the nearby Herbert Von King Park to savor them on a park bench. Then, burn those calories through a scenic stroll.
Noon: An Aerial View Finale
This is how cool my Lokely local was: he gave me his apartment building code to head up to the roof so I could take in 360-degree bird’s-eye views of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Wow! I couldn’t think of a better way to end my day of exploration. Also, I’m going to start perusing apartment listings for Bedstuy.
As someone who typically uses dating apps like Tinder and OkCupid to meet locals on the road, I definitely love the idea of having a new app that allows me to keep the instant chat function while taking romance out of the equation. Sometimes you just want to talk to someone, like yourself, who knows the area well and can tell you what to do. Period.
I would also use this app again to explore another NYC neighborhood I might not know so well. I’m obsessed with wandering and getting lost in new neighborhoods; with Lokely App I could have a bit more direction — for free — while still making discoveries of my own.
And if you like your local’s advice the app gives you the option to leave a tip. My itinerary was definitely worth a tip, especially when I factor in the amount of time it saved me by relieving me of having to scour through Yelp for recommendations.
The Future of Lokely
Lokely App is currently in its first phase after launch; however, the team is working on a new version to debut in the next few months, which will have, according to Langton, “a few exciting new features in addition to smaller improvements throughout the app to improve the user experience.”
Personally I’d love to see a feature where the itinerary given by the local is provided on a real-time Google Map with waypoints, as well as a way to more easily search for a specific neighborhood vs a city. For my day in Bedstuy, Langton helped connect me with Bedstuy-specific locals vs general Brooklyn locals, which he does regularly for users; however, it would be easier to see this feature already built into the app.
Have you tried Lokely? What apps do you use to connect with locals on the road? I’d love to hear in the comments below.
*Thank you Lokely App for sponsoring my experience. Looking forward to the new version of the app to come!
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