We caught up with the Chief of Staff, Uli Bilke, at the famed Yelp company to talk about what’s hot for the Holidays 2012

Uli BilkeThere must be tons of just fabulous places that we can go this Christmas and New Year… What are your top tips and destinations…?

One of my personal London favourites is Friendly Society in Soho, which is a really great bar to start off at on any night out, while The New Bloomsbury Set is a beautiful cosy hideaway popular with London Yelp users. Yelpers in Manchester – that is, people who use Yelp and post reviews, not people who work for Yelp – recommend Via Fossa on Canal Street, with its gorgeous Gothic decor, as it’s a lovely bar and restaurant by day, and a club with a great mix of music by night. Up in Edinburgh, GHQ is very popular with some great nights planned for Christmas in the city’s “pink triangle”, and Brighton’s Marine Tavern comes out on top with Brighton’s Yelpers as a bit of a hidden gem.

We’re still wondering what to do for NYE! What do you suggest?

My advice is don’t go out! I always enjoy New Year’s more when I’m with my friends and we’re staying local, either heading out to support our local pub or seeing the New Year in at a friend’s house. This year I’m heading to a friend’s place, who has a flat with a great view, right across Hampstead Heath so we can take in the fireworks.

For a similar experience, there are some great bars in London with fantastic panoramic views. As well as the famous OXO Tower, the Paramount at Centre Point, Soho, has absolutely stunning views of the city no matter where you sit and the cocktails are amazing! The vista at the Trafalgar Hotel offers great views of the city, as does Altitude 360.

Tell us a little bit about Yelp and how it’s relevant for a young man about town…

Yelp connects people to great local businesses. Whether you are looking for the latest best-kept-secret bar or need to find a good mechanic nearby, the reviews on Yelp are written by locals for locals, so you can get a trustworthy, unbiased opinion on where to go. You can access Yelp both online and via free smartphone apps, so it’s great for when you are on the move.

For me, Yelp is all about discovering incredible places you never knew existed, and being able to share them with people you know will love them too. I’ve been living in London for over four years now and am still always discovering new places. I used to live in San Francisco, where Yelp is huge, so I always had great bars, restaurants and cool places to visit at my finger tips via the Yelp app on my phone. But then I moved to London, where no one had really heard of it and it was only then that I realised how much of a lifesaver it is when you’re trying to decide where to go. I didn’t realise what we had in the US until I suddenly didn’t have it anymore! The good news is that Yelp is now very active in London and there’s loads of local tips and tricks available to everyone. Even better still, you too can become a Yelper and start sharing your old favourites and new discoveries with the world as well.

How does Yelp get to know about all the upcoming and under the radar events?

We have a swat team of community managers and it is their job to keep their fingers firmly on the pulse. They have great relationships with local businesses who keep them informed of events and the latest openings. If one of our community managers finds a cool bar, restaurant or venue they think people will love, they’ll host a party and get people down there – some months they could be hosting these parties on a weekly basis!

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However, the best thing about Yelp is that anyone can post an event they know of in their area. So if a Yelper sees something cool on their travels that they are interested in, they can share it straight away to inform their local community.

We also run our own events to connect the public to great up-and-coming local businesses. We run Elite events at least once a month where we throw a night out for the Yelp Elite Squad. Our Elites are experienced urban adventurers, who go to plenty of parties and gatherings and use social networking to find the best things to do in town. They then regularly share their honest, unbiased opinions with the Yelp community by posting regular reviews, to keep people in the know.

 What will you be doing this Christmas Day?

In Germany, Christmas Eve is the big day for celebration; that’s when we get together with family and loved ones, have a big meal and exchange presents. On Christmas Day itself, we’d keep it low key and go hiking or walk the dog.

This year, I’m going to Germany before Christmas to see the family, then I’m off to Keswick, in the Lake District, for Christmas Day itself. My partner and I are renting a cottage there with our Dalmatian, Momo. It’ll be all open fires and watching Christmassy films like The Holiday.
What’s your most memorable night out?

Well, last year’s Yelp Christmas party was pretty spectacular! We started with a Japanese cookery class atThe Grocery in Shoreditch. There were only 8 of us in the UK office at the time, so it was a very special night out. We had a fantastic moment when a few of us had a group hug, as we knew it would never be the same again as the company’s expansion plans were about to go into full swing. A year on, there’s now around 50 of us.

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Is the reviewing of these places rigorous and involving lots of wine tasting? You must have the best job in the world!

Yes, it’s fantastic working for Yelp, but it’s actually not part of my job to do reviews – the reviews on Yelp are written by Yelp users who just want to share their experiences of great places they’ve discovered. Having said that, I do very much enjoy going out and finding these great places outside of work, and it’s one of my hobbies to review the places I go out to. It’s actually something I did before working for Yelp – I think I must have done at least 300 reviews by now!
• So how does the UK’s Christmas compare with Germany’s?

Christmas certainly starts a lot earlier in the UK than it does in Germany. In Germany, it starts at the first advent, whereas here it’s more like mid-October!

I have to say, I absolutely love going to Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park, as it reminds me of Christmas at home. A lot of the traders are German so it’s the real deal. Just walking through and smelling the sausages and Glühwein, or mulled wine in English, brings back the memories.

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