While the former Jay Hotel building at 2515 Jay Ave. in Ohio City may have a somewhat shady past, the new tenants in the lower level of the building are helping their guests relive other sketchy aspects of Cleveland history.
The 92-year-old building has served as the Ohio City Post Office and the Jay Hotel. It's also housed a bowling alley and a biker bar. Developer Tom Gillespe recently renovated the three-story building in a multi-million dollar project. Today, the Jay is home to Whiskey Grade apparel shop and motorcycle retailer Ohio City Moto on the first floor, while the second and third floors feature apartments.
On the lower level, however, Diana and Bill Molchan are fighting crime and solving mysteries. Their escape games business, Perplexity Games, offers role-playing immersive challenge games in which players attempt to rid a 1938 Cleveland of corruption during the reign of safety director Eliot Ness.
“It’s kind of like the game Clue, but with real rooms and real props,” says Diana Molchan. “I read about Ness and it was one of the most corrupt cities in the country at the time. He came into Cleveland and took on the Mob.”
Players act as sleuths hired by Eliot Ness to investigate a corrupt city commissioner with ties to illegal gambling. They have one hour to find evidence, prove corruption and avoid the Mob.
“For our first game we kicked around a vintage detective theme, but wanted to do a story line that was unique to Cleveland,” Molchan says, noting that the increasingly-popular escape games usually focus on bank heists and jail breaks. “The 30s was a very colorful period in Cleveland history.”
Molchan says they wanted to choose a realistic theme for their game. “When Eliot Ness was hired as public safety director there was a lot of organized crime, with Irish and Italian mobs running illegal gambling and liquor operations and paying off cops and judges,” she explains. “Ness investigated his own officers before there was any such thing as internal affairs and really cleaned up the city. So, that's the ‘true life’ background to our game.”
Players are given some context and instructions to begin, but then they are on their own. “They’re not given a lot of information starting out,” explains Molchan. “You’re looking for pieces of evidence, to find clues and piece it together.”
One area in the 3,000-square-foot space has been transformed into 1938 style. Molchan, who sold antiques for 10 years, did the decorating. “We wanted to do this in Humphrey Bogart-era style,” she explains.
The couple plans to add other escape games in the additional two rooms in the lower level, with one scheduled to open later this month and the other in July or August.
One of the themes Molchan is playing with centers around steampunk with a sci-fi twist on the Victorian era. “There will be mechanical, physical puzzles,” Molchan hints. “It’s going to be really amazing and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The layout is such that the Molchans can customize each space for the game’s theme while using the structure's original features. “We have an original brick room with a huge, fabulous fire door that we are going to use for the second game,” she says. “We want to do something steampunk because it fits the space so well.”
In the Eliot Ness game, Molchan installed an antique office door between two rooms that players have to unlock with a skeleton key.
Each game will run for about a year and different games can run simultaneously in the space.
While Perplexity Games is geared toward adults, Molchan says families with children who are at least 10 years old are welcome to play. She says many players hit the bars and restaurants around Ohio City before and after the game.
The current Eliot Ness Investigation game runs Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m., Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 per person.
Perplexity Games is also available for private parties and corporate team building events.