Mortar & Pestle: Coffee, Food, Alcohol? Sounds Like a Good Time!

There are a lot of opinions about this restaurant. Lets see what the Exploring Tampa crew thinks!
Mortar & Pestle, 2019
Coming from the ashes of a popular food truck, Mortar & Pestle is a concept that thrives to bring back the old timey pharmacies. You know the ones... You go to get a soda from the fountain, you wander the aisles, make your way to the lunch counter, then leave with your prescriptions. Located on the same block as local favorites Angry Chair Brewing and Trip's Diner, there's no lack of business to be had. This is also one of the few places in Seminole Heights with a real parking lot. Had you never read a review of this place and had you not heard about their filing for bankruptcy, you'd be impressed. The inside of the building is a hipster's paradise, with the industrial looking tables and chairs, the high ceiling, the steampunk-esque inspired decor. The inside of this building is cool. Next door is also a fully functional pharmacy that I wasn…

The Vault of Souls: Halloween's Sexiest Event

October has come and the Halloween events have started. Lets talk about another one!

The Vault of Souls, 2017

Back when I started Exploring Tampa, I could have never imagined where it would be today. There have been so many opportunities that I never would've dreamed I'd have the chance to experience. The Vault of Souls is one of those. I was sitting at home looking for Halloween events to cover so that I could fill the YouTube channel with videos for October. I had heard a rumor that Scott Swenson, the man responsible for Howl-O-Scream at Busch Gardens Tampa, was running a new, exclusive event in Downtown Tampa. I sent the email over for a media night and was very shocked to hear that I had been granted media access. This was the biggest event I had covered in my earlier days, and remains one of the bigger events I cover every year. I was not going to screw this up. But you didn't come here for that. Lets get to the event.

Stormy, Car, 2017

As you can tell from the pictures, this is a very upscale event. While the main attraction is escape room-esque, the overall experience starts from the minute you walk in. You're first greeted by a doorman who says very little. You're then taken to registration where your reservations are confirmed and then your soul is cleansed before you walk into the first of two bars. Here, the room has an eerie blue tint as you come face-to-face with the souls that have been stuck in this building over the last 95 years. What Swenson is able to do really well is tell a story in no time at all. From the minute you're introduced to the characters, you get a sense of who they were while they were living and what may have led to their demise. You get the chance to interact with them, learn about their lives, all rooted in Tampa's history, either real or imagined. The arrival (the bar on the first floor) also provides guests with a paranormal investigator, a wacky clown, a reverend, and a poet along with various spirits from the past.

Soul Cleansing, 2017

This event really comes together with the help of the actors and actresses. They live their roles, embrace them, and bring about the most authentic performance that you're going to find in Tampa. If this event wasn't being held at The Vault, it would be held on Broadway. Luckily, it is held at The Vault. The building itself creates an atmosphere that you wont find many other places, dating back to the earlier days of Tampa, originally opening in 1894. In 2015, The Vault of Souls was brought in to provide a nice, upscale, Halloween inspired event.

Clownin' Around, 2017

The release rooms are new this year. Swenson had previously used the entire vault to create a giant maze for you to find your way out of in years past. This year, you pick one of four characters and it's your duty to solve a few key puzzles to release their spirit from The Vault, lest their souls will be stuck in the bank vault for eternity. The biggest downside that I found to this new incarnation of The Vault is that you don't meet the characters while in the room. This isn't a big deal until you realize that people who haven't been to The Vault in years past wont understand the significance of the rooms. And while the third floor provides a meet and greet with the characters, a lot of details seem to get lost. This was especially true with my group, two of whom had never been before. The release room, on its own, was a lot of fun. Having never done an escape room, or anything of the sort, this was perfect for a first timer. The puzzles weren't overly difficult, the time limit wasn't ridiculous, and the teller made for an interesting experience. However, walking to the release room, you're taken through the shell of what used to be there before. And there's a lot of dead space. 

 The Arrival Bar, 2017

The crew this year was myself, Stormy, Chris, and Charles. We decided on Doctor Truth's room. This will contain no spoilers, thus this paragraph might be kind of short. You're essentially walked through the entire set of The Vault of Souls until you get to The Doctor's corner office. Once there, you're given a teller (the employee whose job is at risk because The Doctor is driving him mad) and thirty minutes to release the soul of Doctor Truth. Doctor Truth's mirrors are all around the room and his spirit is there, even if the character isn't. There are some really cool features in this room, though the entire group had to squeeze into the last part of it. This is a room I wouldn't do with more than four people and we went down with eight. That said, we were able to release the good doctor's spirit and catch up with him on the third floor.


Getting Out of Bed, 2017

The basement has never been the main attraction to the Vault, however. The new concept for this year is that you're able to interact with the characters, something that you weren't able to do in the past. This tests the actors and goes on to show how good they all are at improv. The arrival room is the first bar, the third floor provides the second bar. This is where you interact with the spirits you've released with the help of a seance led by Wisteria. In between soul searching (see what I did there?) your eyes will feast upon an act that can only be described using the picture above. In previous years, the Gin Joint was a part of the Vault of Souls. This year, the old favorite has become its own, year 'round attraction. While guests are still welcome to visit, they're at the mercy of availability (it was fully booked while we were there) of the joint itself. 

Chris With the Dominatrix, 2017

While this year did provide some new concepts and ideas, there were a few things that were noticeably missing. The first, and most striking, was the blues band and flappers that used to take over the Gin Joint. Unfortunately, their presence is no longer felt. With the exclusion of the Gin Joint, the beer selection at The Vault suffers drastically, with Jai Alai being the only craft beer they carry. Not all is lost, however. The Vault does provide three different signature drinks for the events in the form of a chocolate martini, The Last Waltz, and The Contract. The hors d'oeuvres have been replaced with a giant block of cheese and some sort of crunchy, yet delicious, bread. The gelato bar is no more and is instead replaced by another bar. I do feel like this year's event was a lot more streamlined than events in the past.

 The Tabulator, 2017

Things to know before you go:
- Every actor in this event has a story to tell. Spend some time learning each of their stories.
- Just because your release room ended doesn't mean your experience has. Feel free to come before your reservation and stay until close. 
- There is no shortage of alcohol, but you'll definitely want to eat before you come. You don't want to leave once you get here.
- The dress code is strictly enforced.  
- Reservations are highly encouraged.
- During your reserved night, if you'd like to add another release room, the price drops to $25 (for the second room).

Which release room are you most looking forward to? Is this year better than last? Leave a comment below. If you'd like more information on Tampa, check out my YouTube Channel and if you'd like to support my efforts, don't hesitate to buy a shirt from our Spreadshirt (we have new designs!). Also, don't be afraid to click subscribe and you'll instantly be notified whenever a new entry is posted. Thank you all and I will see you next time!
 

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