Cocktails are a specialty at Deadbolt Restaurant in West Hartford.

Cocktails are a specialty at Deadbolt Restaurant in West Hartford.

By now you probably know what an escape room is. Many have opened across the state in recent years. They have various themes but share a basic format: visitors are led into a small room filled with an assortment of odd puzzles, clues and mental challenges. They’re then given 60 minutes to solve their way out.

West Hartford’s newest escape room, Skeleton Key Adventure Emporium, has something few others do: a full bar. To be more precise, the full bar is at Deadbolt Restaurant, a sister business occupying a connected space next door to Skeleton Key. And though you can’t actually bring your drinks into the escape room challenge, the businesses are designed to be enjoyed together in one visit.

Skeleton Key opened in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square over the summer. The company, which also has locations in White Plains, New York, and Lynnfield, Massachusetts, prides itself on the quality of its sets and challenges. It does not disappoint.

One of the escape rooms at Skeleton Key Adventure Emporium in West Hartford.

One of the escape rooms at Skeleton Key Adventure Emporium in West Hartford.

Stepping into Skeleton Key, my friend and I are impressed with the steampunk decor and its mad-scientist-meets-Victorian-era design. To get started, we’re briefed on the “mission,” which is to steal Van Gogh’s famous painting The Starry Night. We’re also told by a staff member that she’ll be watching us the whole time through a video feed and will offer helpful hints and assistance if we get stuck solving a puzzle. Then we’re led into a room that is set up like a London street. There is a full-size phone booth, an English taxi, street lamp and statues. The phone booth is locked, as is the car, but we find a hidden key after taking a few moments to get our bearings. Now we’re off and running, solving some puzzles with ease but needing several hints for other challenges.

Ultimately, we make it into the second room, a museum setting. Without giving away too much, to solve various challenges we must figure out certain codes, utilize a black light and even play a small piano. Like so many other games, it is lots of fun when we are doing well and knocking off the problems but less fun when we struggle.

A highlight is the interaction with the staff member, who at times moves us along with visual clues and sound effects, and also keeps us from veering too far off course. When we notice a potential tool several feet above our heads and consider climbing to it, a harsh buzzer sounds, signifying climbing is most definitely not the right route.

After the adventure challenges, we go back to the lobby and head to Deadbolt Restaurant. The restaurant shares the escape room’s steampunk decor, and though we worry at first the food here would be an afterthought to the escape room experience, we quickly find this fear unfounded. Thematically appropriate cocktails such as the Fortune Teller (vodka, violet liqueur, lavender-hibiscus and lemon) and the classic Manhattan are well made. The food itself is perfect for enjoying with a group of friends before or after the escape room. We dig into the beef poutine and street tacos with relish.

Taken together, the escape room and restaurant are a worthwhile new attraction for both escape room fans looking for a new twist and newbies who need something a little extra to convince them to try this type of experience.

This article appeared in the January 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Send us your feedback on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag, or email editor@connecticutmag.com.

The senior writer at Connecticut Magazine, Erik is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University