If you’ve never heard of invisible service, don’t worry. We hadn’t heard of it either until we found out about a new hotel being constructed in Cape May last year.
The concept is intriguing: no front desk, no on-site staff. A couple of hours prior to arrival, the hotel sends a message containing your room number and door code. There’s no waiting for a concierge to find your reservation in their system or make door keys. Simply show up, get your luggage out of the car, and go inside. Just like you would at home.
We visited Lokal’s Cape May Bespoke Hotel one day after they officially opened. It’s located on Stockton Avenue across from Convention Hall and steps from the former Beach Theatre, in a two-story building that underwent renovations over the winter. Even half a block away, we couldn’t help but notice the dark exterior. Despite being highly visible, it was understated, even modest. The words “LOKAL” and “HOTEL” were displayed on simple signs hanging from both floors.
Potted plants crowded onto the steps leading up to the porch, which spanned the front of the building, catching the breeze off the ocean. The view is obstructed by the promenade, but even without being able to see the water, there’s something relaxing about being that close to it. And while it was tempting to sink onto one of the empty rocking chairs, we approached the front door. Above it, hand-painted lettering on the glass welcomed us to Lokal Hotel.
Just inside the front door was a staircase to the second level, and a long wooden shelf that offered games like Pictionary, Scrabble, and Cards Against Humanity. Above it soared a tall painting of leaves and succulents in various shades of green and yellow. Beyond the stairs were guest room doors. No front desk, no general seating area. Feeling slightly lost, we wandered back outside and found one of the founders, Chad, chatting with a guest.
Chad Ludeman and his wife, Courtney, are the co-founders of Lokal, a four-location boutique hotel brand that began in Old City, Philadelphia. Although he was exhausted from getting the hotel open, he graciously gave us a personal tour of the property, beginning with the outside.
The path into the hotel’s side yard passed by twin outdoor showers mounted to the side of the building. Across from them and behind a privacy barrier was a fire pit area for use in the evenings. Both fire pits were surrounded by ’50s style white patio chairs. (The fire pits will actually use clean-burning candles for now.) The surrounding landscape was wound with low-voltage lighting that would come on at night. Beyond it, a grassy area doubled as a place for outdoor games and overflow parking.
The jewel of the exterior was waiting in the adjacent fenced portion of the yard: Lokal’s saltwater pool, with its denim-blue water and gray stone surround, lined with sophisticated black lounge chairs and umbrellas bearing the hotel’s logo. The pool rules were charmingly hand-painted on the dark fence. The surrounding landscaping, Chad told us, was all native plants sourced from around the state. Once mature, they’ll lend privacy to the yard. An outdoor grilling area is in the works.
We headed inside for a look at one of the guest rooms. Lokal has two ADA compliant rooms and a lift on the side of the building. We toured Studio 100, named “Afternoonfied”—a Victorian slang term for “smart.” Each of the rooms is similarly named, with accompanying whimsical paintings by local artist Mike DeMusz.
My first thought, after Chad opened the door and led us inside, was that I would happily transport the room into my own home. The walls were white, the ceilings tall. Long curtains hung in front of the twin French doors that led onto the front porch. A bed with a white spread and curved bamboo headboard was positioned in the far right corner. Beside it was a white tulip dining table, a bench, and a single red-stained wood chair. To my right was a kitchen with a dark counter and accompanying island—a generous amount of space for cooking (or writing, if you’re like me). Built into the countertop was a two-burner range and sink. Dishes were artfully displayed on a floating shelf above. Beyond the kitchen, next to the French doors, was a small sofa facing a wall-mounted TV. A real live green plant sat underneath.
Nothing flashy, nothing overwhelming. Stepping into that studio felt more like walking into a second home than a hotel I’d be borrowing for a few days. Everything in the room was as carefully selected as the pieces in my own house. My stress melted. No wonder Lokal’s other New Jersey location is booked solid through the end of the year.
After taking a few moments to absorb it, I noticed an iPad mounted to the wall. Some people are averse to technology on vacation, but Lokal uses it in lieu of 24/7 staff. Chad said this model has been a success at their other locations. Each of their Cape May guest rooms is equipped with an iPad pre-loaded with apps for InstaCart (for grocery delivery), DoorDash (Lokal’s “room service”—just order and it will be applied to your room tab), Sonos (which powers the room’s speaker), and June (the room’s smart oven). Custom vacation playlists are coming soon. If you need something an app can’t handle, someone is just a text away. And, of course, they are happy to send a human to help as well.
Rather than stock the hotel with the same products they use in other locations, Chad and Courtney are committed to supporting local businesses where they can. The mugs are from Givens; the spoon holder is made by a local artisan; olive oil and vinegar are from Cape May Olive Oil Co.; the coffee beans (you grind them fresh) are from Out There coffee; and Jersey brand Wise Ape provides multiple blends of tea. Art prints are by local artists including Victor Grasso. The original painting inside the hotel entry is by Zara Fina Stasi. There are USA-made goods, too. Much of the room’s furniture was custom made outside of Philadelphia. Peg & Awl customized the waxed-canvas beach bags to include shoulder straps for use with bicycles.
This is truly a hotel where you could show up with a change of clothes and your swimsuit. Each room comes with a Yeti Hopper cooler and drinkware to take with you to the beach or pool. The kitchen has a fridge, basic cooking supplies, and spices; just add groceries. There’s a traditional coffee maker, French press, and glass pour-over coffee maker, so you can make your morning brew the way you prefer. Since this is a hotel, sheets, robes, and towels (yes, even beach towels) are provided. Beach service, including lounge chairs and umbrellas, is arranged for you across the street. There’s on-site laundry on each floor—no coins needed, and they provide the detergent. For people with young children (Chad and Courtney have two of their own, so they get it), Lokal even has pack and plays so you don’t have to travel with your own.
Did I mention that Lokal is family friendly? Chad is working on sandcastle-building kits right now. Buckets and shovels? They have those standing by.
Lokal’s Cape May Bespoke Hotel is located at 5 Stockton Place. It offers eight apartment-style hotel rooms (suites and studios) and on-site parking. Parking appeared to be full size, so trucks and larger vehicles shouldn’t be a problem. And here’s the best news: They are going to be open year-round. For more information (and a peek at their other locations), visit staylokal.com.