Laura and I met up at Dark Horse Coffee, at the corner of Spadina and Queen Sts., a popular java joint in the city! We chatted about everything from her experiences with Lokafy and her travels, to life in Toronto and the booming food/music culture scene in the big city!
How did you become involved with Lokafy?
Laura: It was super random. I was on Craigslist, looking through jobs, specifically in the food and beverage industry, which is the area I work in. This was years ago now when Kiran (Founder of Lokafy) was just starting out. I was just like: “rad, it’s for people who love Toronto,” and then I was like: “yeah, I love Toronto!” We ended up meeting up and she told me about her idea for Lokafy. That was about two years ago now.
What interested you about Lokafy?
Laura: I’m an avid traveler and I love meeting new people. So that was it, it was basically about meeting new people and showing them around my city. That’s definitely what interested me.
What can visitors expect on your Lokafy tour?
Laura: Well in Toronto it’s hard to have fun if you don’t know anybody because it’s so big. It’s so huge, and no one who is from here actually hangs out in the tourist areas. Like most cities, right? People who sign up for Lokafy tours of Toronto can expect a local perspective of Toronto – a more authentically local experience – and they’ll see some nooks and crannies that they otherwise may not be able to find themselves.
What would you describe as your ideal travel experience?
Laura: Any city, coffee in hand, ready to explore. I love discovering new cities. I’m a city girl for sure. So my ideal travel experience involves going to a city I’ve never been to before, waking up, grabbing a coffee, and just going out and exploring. Again, preferably it would be with some sort of guidance, recommendations, and whatnot, which is basically what we’re trying to do at Lokafy. We connect travellers with locals.
Tell me about your best travel experience so far.
Laura: India. I did the south of India in Sri Lanka for two months in 2014, from January to March, and it was amazing! India is such a special place, just so insane, and I can’t wait to go back! I feel like I just scratched the surface being there for month and a half.
What are some other travel experiences that stand out in your mind?
Laura: I went to Berlin before I flew to Mumbai. I’d say it was definitely my favourite; I’m a big techno fan and it’s THE place to be for that kind of music culture. I decided to try and get into the infamous Bird Hain, which is a huge techno club. Basically they have this infamous door policy, for reasons that are completely unknown, they turn away about 50% of the people who try to get in. There’s all this speculation about what they’re looking for. So I got separated from my group, and I was like: “whatever I’m going to try and get into Bird Hain,” and I tried, the line was surprisingly really small. Usually it’s a two-hour line. So I tried to get in, and I got in, and it was absolutely amazing! It was the best crowd, and the best sound system, and Berlin is extremely nocturnal. I would sleep in, and go to the clubs all night.
How do you think it compares to the techno scene here?
Laura: The techno scene in Toronto is really gaining speed. It’s actually growing exponentially. Although it’s not as developed as Berlin’s, we have so much talent coming through. We have proper venues, and there’s internationally known DJs and well known DJs pretty much every single weekend, if not both Friday and Saturday night. It’s fun; it’s a good place to be if you’re into techno.
What is the best part about living in Toronto?
Laura: Best part of living in Toronto? It’s definitely…well everyone says it, because it’s true: “it’s the melting pot of cultures,” it really is! It’s so special! Everywhere else you go, even if it’s not blatant, it doesn’t feel as peaceful. Everywhere else you still feel slight segregation between people – Toronto is the opposite. You experience so many different cultures, especially as a traveller. You meet so many people from all over the world.
What have been your most memorable experiences here in Toronto?
Laura: I’m a graduate from the Hospitality and Tourism program at George Brown College, it was definitely a highlight. Since then, I’ve worked in a bunch of different restaurants and they’ve all been memorable – I’ve learned so much! My first serious restaurant job was at Suser Lee’s restaurant Lee, and that was when I really got into proper restaurants, which I loved so much! That catapulted my restaurant career just in terms of doing things properly.
What are some of your favourite neighbourhoods?
Laura: I love Chinatown! Queen West has some amazing shops and whatnot if you’re into fashion. I also really like Cabbagetown – Parkdale is similar. I also really like the Annex, really beautiful as well: more of like a ‘neighbourhood-y’ feel, which I like.
Which aspects of these nooks do you think are worth showing people?
Laura: Kensington Market, such an interesting pocket of the city – everyone has to see it when they come here. The Queen West neighbourhood because it really has the most unique chill outs, and cool restaurants. Trinity Bellwood’s Park is really cool. I really love going to parks in cities because you really get to feel the energy of the city and these are usually filled with so many people. I am most familiar with these areas so these are generally the ones I’d stick to.
I’m also familiar with the ones that are more south too, such as the King West area, which I’m most familiar with. There are some really neat shops on King that are kind of tucked away, the ones that few people know of. There’s the first cigar baker, the first handcrafted cigar baker in Canada is there. His name is Frank Caretti, and you can’t even find his store because it’s in an alley where there’s no signage. If you didn’t know about these spots, you wouldn’t find them.
The St. Lawrence Market is amazing! It was actually voted the number one food market in the world. I think it’s unique because it has a culture within itself, within the market; it’s not just a food market! When I take someone on a tour, it’s always related to food and beverage, cause that’s my thing.
On the topic of food and bev., how are the patios in Toronto?
Laura: Well, obviously our patio game is strong; Torontonians love their damn patios! They’ll sit on them anywhere; there’s even patios here on Spadina that are full, and that’s a testament to the popularity of patio culture!
Laura: Well it would probably be that of my favourite restaurant, The Harbord Room. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it, it’s at Harbord and Spadina. They have the cutest little patio – the best sun to shade ratio – with really nice trees surrounding.
Tell us your thoughts on Toronto’s restaurant scene.
Laura: Wow, well Toronto’s restaurant scene is on point these days! You know it’s good when well-known chefs are opening restaurants on every corner, and that’s what we’re starting to see now. No matter what your looking for – five-star or cheap and cheerful – you can find it here.
The chefs here are great with working with lots of global influences, and I think that makes it unique as well, rather than just one style of food. When you go to Europe, yeah the food’s amazing but you go to Rome and you’re just getting Italian food, and that’s great but here (in Toronto) you have such diverse selection and influences.
Which restaurants would you recommend to travellers?
Laura: The Harbord Room like I already mentioned, because the restaurant scene in the city of Toronto can sometimes be quite pretentious, but The Harbord Room is quality with a really laid-back environment. It has really delicious cocktails and the perfect atmosphere.
There’s a new restaurant that just opened a couple doors down called R&D. Eric Shun, who won Master Chef Canada, opened his restaurant with one of the judges, whose name is Alvin Lung. It’s an Asian Tapas influence, mostly Chinese with a general Pan Asian fusion.
Buca is amazing: it’s a really elegant Italian restaurant in the King West neighbourhood (King and Portland). It’s very, very elegant and it’s not just the typical pizza, pasta menu. There is pizza and pasta, but it’s done by a really, really refined hand, and really elegantly. I really enjoy it. Their patio is an alleyway, so it feels like a European terrace.
What advice would you give to travellers visiting Toronto?
Laura: 1. Bring all sorts of clothes because our weather is so unpredictable! In the summer, bring sweaters. 2. Definitely eat and drink as much as you can. I would just say snack all day, there are so many different restaurants to try. Don’t go out for meals; just graze all day, you know? Like…have something here, something here, snack all day.
3. Toronto’s music scene in terms of every other genre as well is very, very strong. Just try live music, I’d say even if it’s hip hop, or whatever. Every single night there’s going to be somewhere that has live music and most of the time it’s local talent. 4. Do a little bit of research, don’t aimlessly walk around the downtown core. You’ll have a good time if you look a little harder for something. 5. Finally, I would say use Bixi and don’t take TTC.
Laura: It’s a bike-sharing program. They have stations all over the downtown core. You take out the bike at any station, it’s $7 for a day pass (24 hrs.). It’s great for just getting around, and you can check it back in at a completely different location if you needed to.
What are your favourite events in Toronto?
Laura: Toronto Jazz Fest in the beaches is great, and so is Toronto Pride Week! It’s so nice that the two fall around the same few days. It’s my favourite weekend of the year! Nothing compares to Toronto Pride, it’s a city-wide event. It’s just amazing, the vibes are just so special, and people come from far and wide so you get to meet people from all over.
There’s also a party on Toronto Island called Electric Island that happens four or five times throughout the summer. It’s awesome to just party under the trees and have a really good time.
For more info about Laura check out her profile on lokafy.com