25 Nov 2015

Arts & Entertainment:

The Escape Lounge: CHAMPS’s Best New Business

Maria Helena Carey

A very Resolute desk, and a mystery waiting to be solved. What will you do? Dust off your best Keanu Reeves voice to read that, please. Photo by María Helena Carey

Maria Helena Carey

The beautiful main floor at the Escape Lounge. This is the room where you check in and wait for fun and mayhem. Photo by María Helena Carey.

Just in time for the holidays, I am getting around to write up a business that, by the time this post sees the light of day, won’t be a new business much longer: It has been open since July, and its owner and I have been chatting for about as long. Of course, as winner of the Hilly for Best New Business of the Year, I think we can extend the courtesy a little longer (or at least I hope so). The Escape Lounge, 1322B H Street NE, is based on “escape the room” type computer games, which became popular in the early aughts, (LMWikiTFY) and which are in turn based on Agatha Christie mysteries. The beautiful two-story place has two games you can pick from: the children-and-up Escape the Classroom (pictured below) and the adults-mostly Escape the Oval Office. You are locked in with friends and/or family (up to ten people per game) and are supposed to solve clues to make your escape. Sounds simple enough, but it’s VERY HARD.

Maria Helena Carey

The Classroom. Don’t let the adorableness deceive you: this puzzle is really hard. Photo by María Helena Carey.

What makes the Escape Lounge unique is not just the serene spaces where you wait to enter the puzzle rooms. It’s not the actual rooms themselves: well-appointed and meticulously decorated, it’s hard not to get even the tiniest lump in your throat when you just walk in to photograph the space that lovely host and co-owner Ayanna Smith is showing you as part of the tour, like you should be solving clues as if your life depended on it.

Maria Helena Carey

The Oval Office. Photo by María Helena Carey

The magic of the place resides with Ayanna herself and her husband Tim– who is currently deployed– as well as her business partner, Melody Jackson: They are all committed to working with the community, and were all interested in bringing fun yet educational options to the neighborhood, where there could be community as well as a relaxed and family-friendly atmosphere, as well as a venue for birthday parties for kids of all ages. Of course, Ayanna’s two adorable daughters tie the family-friendly package together, and are the inspiration for the Smiths’ desire to have a family-friendly business venture.

Both the Classroom and the Oval Office have the perfect balance of reality and hyperreality. The classroom blackboard cheerfully asks the students for the first clue, for instance, as if you’d just happened to wander into it mid-lesson. The Oval Office, though clearly not oval in this case has all the rich opulence of its namesake. The perfect shade of yellow bounces off the walls and sets off the gold in the window treatments and the flags. Makes one wonder if the Obamas would be into a little escape-the-room game for one of their date nights.

Ayanna tells me that adults who loved their experience in the Oval Office so much and wanted to do it again have tried the Classroom– and not all the groups have made it out at all. So for those taking notes at home, this is important: it’s hard to get out of these rooms, you guys.

In an economy where most of our new businesses are restaurants, bars and coffeeshops –and with absolutely no disrespect to these wonderful and necessary businesses, of course– it’s refreshing and exciting to see a venue that is family-friendly (you can have birthday parties there!), and which brings a dose of mystery and logic skills to the neighborhood. It’s also the kind of place you can keep handy for showing off to out-of-towners– something that will doubtless be of interest to those of you welcoming family and friends to the area this holiday season.


What: The Escape Lounge, CHAMPS’s deserving winner of Best New Business at the 2015 Hilly Awards.

Where: 1344 H Street NE. There is street parking available.

How: You can book your reservations by clicking this link, or you can call 202-399-0900

Why: Because you have a lot of people in town? Because you need a fun new place for a birthday party? Because you LOVE FUN?!?!

That’s what I thought.


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