In August, Patrick Rafferty opened In Search Of An Exit Escape Rooms in the basement of Velo Cult at 1969 N.E. 42nd Ave. in the Hollywood district. The space beneath Sky Boyer’s bike shop and tavern has been previously used as a theater space and a comedy club called the Kickstand.
Rafferty’s first room, “Lombino’s Casino,” is an immersive puzzle space where groups are let loose in the poker room of a notorious mob boss and given one hour to defeat the mob family. As guests explore the room, they find clues and solve puzzles that will bring about the fall of the fictional Lombino Empire. Rafferty estimates that only one in five groups are able to successfully solve the puzzle in the allotted time. He monitors the group’s progress from an adjoining control room and is continuously tweaking the puzzle so that he can steer groups that may be struggling toward success or add layers of complexity for groups that are doing well.
“There is no formal training to become the proprietor of an escape room,” said Rafferty. “There’s a fair number of people who come to it from the haunted house industry and other folks who have a theater background. I’m just a computer guy who really likes playing games. At the moment, our name is a bit of a misnomer, since we only have the one escape room, but I have a ton of plots and puzzles bouncing around in my brain, so the plan is to open more rooms – potentially, another one in Velo Cult if I can convince Sky to let me do it. I’ve always got an eye out for unused spaces in bars and other businesses.”
Rafferty’s business so far has been a pretty even mix of locals, tourists and businesses doing team-building exercises.
“I really like that we’re nestled inside of another space,” said Rafferty. “I think it adds to the immersion of the experience, which is important to me. We bill ourselves as ‘Portland’s most immersive escape room’ and I think we live up to that. Our room is in the basement of this weird bike shop and bar and it could very conceivably be a real thing that’s a part of our city’s history.”
It took Rafferty several months to build out the space, which has the authentic look and feel of a 1980s rec room.
“There’s a lot of my own sweat and a little bit of blood and tears in there,” said Rafferty. “The room looks very unassuming when you walk in, but there’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes – hundreds of feet of cable that control the sound and lighting effects or remotely open doors and drawers and control computers and things. Players always say that it just looks like a normal room when they walk in and by the end of the hour it’s far from it – and that’s the whole idea.”
Although the escape room industry has been growing – and there are now a handful of options in the metro area – Rafferty’s is the first to set up shop on the inner east side.
“I love the Hollywood district,” said Rafferty. “I’m a member of the Hollywood Theatre and Velo Cult was where I took my bike for repairs even before I set up shop in its basement. A fair number of the props for the room were bought at Antique Alley right across the street, and a lot of the calories that were expended building the space came from Nectar Cafe around the corner.”
The escape room is open seven evenings a week and and can be reserved by appointment. For more information, call 503-862-3253 or visit www.insearchofanexit.com.