A few weeks ago, at a class I found by searching through Airbnb Experiences in Seattle, I forged a knife. From a horseshoe.
After becoming a certified blacksmith, attending a secret concert in a mansion, and mastering the ins and outs of Seattle’s scandalous history, I can safely say Airbnb Experiences can truly take you way outside of your comfort zone — but you’ll be safely in the care of passionate Seattleites.
The Airbnb Experiences program, which launched in 2016, offers activities designed and led by local experts for travelers and residents. For this story, we only explored experiences in the Seattle area, but Airbnb offers myriad Experiences in more than 1,000 cities around the world.
All the Seattle options were fascinating, and I struggled to whittle down to the three I attended for this article. Some runners-up included: Goat Yoga, Llamas and Weaving and Seattle Twerkshop 101: Bootycamp.
Instead, I picked: Forge a Knife from a Horseshoe ($80), Scandals Tour ($15) and Secret Concert in a Mansion ($25). These Experiences were more than a way to explore an unfamiliar city; they allowed users to support local artists, blacksmiths and tour guides on one easy-to-use platform. Airbnb eliminates some barriers to accessing local work — but not without a price. Airbnb takes about 20% from all the ticket sales in exchange for allowing local businesses to use its substantial platform as a marketplace to reach new customers.
I forged my first — and certainly not my last — knife at Lawless Forge in the Industrial District. While I found the Experience through Airbnb, founder Max Levi only gets around 3% of his customers from the site, Levi said. The rest come through his personal website.
“When I started the company, I set out to design something that everybody can do,” said Levi. “I want you to surprise yourself.”
And I was surprised. I’m pretty sure I was the worst budding blacksmith in my class. I have no hand-eye coordination and I’m bad at implementing simple instructions (no, I cannot construct Ikea furniture.) But even I ended up with a knife. Levi says this program is accessible for children aged 8 and up.
Because Levi charges customers the same price regardless of how they came to him, he gets less revenue from the clients he gets from Airbnb. Still, the experience platform helps Levi fill classes that have a few empty spots.
A few days later, I went on the scandalous history of Seattle tour — we walked around Pioneer Square learning about the slightly unpleasant early days of Seattle with tour guide Bobby Bogdan Mihoc. He was knowledgeable, funny, and although I had already spent a few months in the city, he told me stories I’d never heard. While that may have been due to my own limited knowledge of Seattle, Mihoc is engaging to say the least.
“Out of 50 stories that I could include, I only chose 15,” said Mihoc. “I include what’s relevant in today’s time. What rings a bell with us Seattleites and tourists today.”
One of the stories focused on a man who owned a series of brothels in Seattle before he left the city at the end of the 19th century.
“That man,” Mihoc revealed, clasping his hands together in excitement, “was Frederick Drumpf, President Trump’s grandfather.”
One of the very nice ladies in my tour group kept repeating, “I didn’t know that! I did not know that!”
The excitement was palpable — this was much more colorful and interesting than your average boring history tour. Mihoc hosts two other Experiences through Airbnb, a brewery crawl in Pike Place and Ballard, and a bunch of other tours that are all listed on his website.
I ended my Experience excursion with a Secret Concert in a Mansion, hosted by Dryft Music. It was all very mysterious: neither the guests nor the artists are told where the mansion is until the day of the concert. The guests don’t know who’s performing and the artists don’t know who they’re performing with.
“I think there’s a big intrigue to it,” said Darren David Guyaz, founder of Dryft Music. “That also builds a lot of trust in the production company. People now go to the shows and expect good music. I don’t have musicians play more than once a year.”
Guyaz joined Airbnb Experiences in 2017 and hosts another similar event titled Secret Concert in a Steamship. Airbnb has provided him with a wealth of supporters of local music.
“I hope the show encourages (guests) to go out and support live music. I think that’s one of the most community-building things you can do,” said Guyaz.
For events like Guyaz’s, it’s difficult to turn around a profit. Paying the artists who perform a fair wage and renting out the space, while keeping tickets affordable, is nearly impossible.
“I don’t make a ton of money doing these shows,” Guyaz said. “Both venues (the mansion and the steamship) have been very generous working with me.”
The Experiences program makes supporting local businesses easier — but this ease comes with a cost. If your preferred local business has its own website, that may be the best way to support it directly, without the Airbnb middle man. Still, I wouldn’t have known about these businesses if not for Airbnb.
“The reason I use Airbnb is they have an especially large reach of travelers,” said Guyaz. “We want to inspire (guests) to keep doing things like this. Support local artists.”
If you go:
Forge a knife from a horseshoe, Lawless Forge, 3600 E. Marginal Way S. #8, Seattle; $80; 814-441-1909, lawlessforge.com
Scandals Tour, 100 Yesler Way, Seattle; $15; 504-326-5611, toursbybobby.com
Secret Concert in a Mansion, $25; dryft.in