Come for the fun – and then try to run

This may be one of the only places where you pay to leave — or at least try to.

Escape Manor is a new business on the corner of Queen and Bank streets in which a group of two to six customers gets locked up in a small, dark room. They have 45 minutes to find a series of clues hidden in the themed room to locate the key and escape their fate.

“Generally, we’re looking for an escape rate of 20 per cent,” says Billy Rogers, one of the designers of Escape Manor, located at 201 Queen St. “So it’s a real challenge.”

The location had two rooms up and running for its opening. One is decorated as an old, dusty wine cellar, where a shady wine maker has been using the blood of the innocent to make red wine.

The other is Prison Break, where participants must find a way out of the dark cell and then manage to find the key out of the guard’s chamber before an executioner arrives. 

Customers have to work together with their friends and family, or even complete strangers to solve the clues to escape the room. If they don’t manage to break out of the room in the allotted time, the experience is over and the door is opened by the staff. 

The adventure is self-fulfilling; getting out is the reward. That is why the rooms are designed to have a low escape rate.

The experience is closely monitored and an emergency key is pasted in the room in case someone falls ill or needs to get out.

Chris Bisson, co-founder of Escape Manor, describes it as a “Sherlock Holmes mystery meets the horror movie Saw, without the horror and without the gore.”

The concept stems from online escape games in which players must click on clues to find the keys to the exit. The idea has gained traction in East Asia, where real-life escape games have become a trend in recent years. 

Now, locations are opening up all over North America, including Toronto, Vancouver and New York City.

“We took that as a good sign that the concept would be welcomed with open arms in Canada and in Ottawa in particular,” says Bisson.

The business is the only one of its kind in Ottawa – so far.

The idea came from a friend who had experienced something similar in Thailand. After months of market research and deliberations, the four friends – Bisson, Rogers, Steve Wilson and Neil Schwartz – decided to take a leap of faith.

The foursome, in their mid to late 30, met during their studies in Ottawa. They’ve worked numerous jobs, taking them from cruise ships, to hotels, to the Olympics — always in the entertainment industry.

“We’re excited and exhausted because we’ve been working around the clock to get everything ready for the opening,” says Bisson.

Rogers thinks this is the kind of entertainment Ottawa needs.

“We’re known as being a bit of sleepy city, which we’re not,” he says. “The people of Ottawa are really exciting, it’s just a matter of finding something for them to do and go after.”

The four friends say they want to be involved in the community. 

“We want to sit on the boards of the BIA for both Sparks Street and for Bank Street,” says Wilson. “We’re also going to tie in to a select charity, have charity nights for them as well.”

Escape Manor will be serving drinks and snacks in a mansion-themed lounge area decorated with antique furniture. The goal is to apply for a liquor license in order to be able to serve alcoholic beverages.

Two more rooms are scheduled to open in mid-January, based on the feedback received from the first months.
The price for a run-through of a single room amounts to $21, tax included.