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Enter an Otherworld, interactive art space open now

Linda Lee Baird

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Otherworld is located at 5819 Chantry Drive in Reynoldsburg, and is now officially open Fridays – Sundays! To learn more about what Otherworld has in store, read our (614) Magazine coverage below! 

Remember the OASIS,  from Ready Player One, the immersive simulation game that sucked in players around the globe to escape from their dull existence? Columbus might have just gotten a step closer to that virtual reality. At least the escape part is down.

Check out Instagram highlights from people around Columbus here.

I need an escape. It’s a classic winter-in-central-Ohio gray day when I turn into the enormous parking lot of an abandoned strip mall off of Brice Road—a layer of fog has settled five feet above the pavement, and the faded lettering of a former Office Max marks the building in front of me. In the middle of the gray is a futuristic and intriguing sign: Otherworld. I park next to a car with the license plate “MORBID 1.” Despite the fact that I haven’t yet entered the building, I’m already transported.   

Jordan Renda, Otherworld’s Creative Director and Founder, takes me on a tour of the building—formerly a Sports Authority—that’s being transformed by a team of designers. Their goal is nothing less than developing a brand-new genre of “gamified” entertainment. Renda describes it as a combination of an escape room, a role-playing game, an art installation, a children’s science center, and a haunted house. “It’s an interactive art installation that’s tied together  with an overarching story,” he said. “We’re sort of blending all those things together to create something that’s totally new.” 

When visitors arrive, they’ll learn their role in the story that’s about to unfold—serving as beta testers for a company called Otherworld Industries.  “This company’s been developing this new sort of technology. It […] manifests this dream realm. So you’re unlocking this archetypal dream world that you can explore and go through,” Renda said. Visitors may also choose to follow a different path to  learn the backstory of the company. In total, there will be roughly three-hours of content to explore.

As we walk through the rooms, Renda shares more about who—or what—will inhabit them. Expect to meet a 19-eyed creature whose orbs can track you, a seamstress in a room of spiders, a monster with an oversized bed, and a botanist experimenting with wild plants (Renda describes him as “Willy Wonka meets Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty.”)

Even without having met these characters, I’m taken in by the design. With light projections, fantastical creatures, infinity mirrors, interactive control panels, and a central surreal-looking tree, Otherworld functions at a core level as a giant immersive piece of art, designed to be enjoyable even if visitors don’t want to solve any puzzles. 

“A lot of this tech is just emerging where we can actually make a whole room change around you by, like, the touch of a small button,” Fabrication Director Leland Drexler-Russell said. “There’s an interactive, or multiple interactive elements in every single room.” These features include spiders whose legs visitors can control and gems that guests can explode. There are even opportunities to influence other visitors’ experiences. 

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While Otherworld aims to be something entirely new, it’s inspired by the creators’ experiences with different forms of immersive art. Renda and Drexler-Russell both credit visits to City Museum in St. Louis as a formative early experience with large-scale interactive exhibits. Renda also spoke of attending Haunted House trade shows. “As a teenager I thought, ‘Man, wouldn’t it be great if you could add a story to this, add some themed elements,’ ” he said. 

I wondered whether Otherworld could be compared to immersive theater experiences where guests wander through the set, often staged in multiple rooms, watching bits and pieces of story unfold along the way. Drexler-Russell confirmed my hunch, but added that in this case, the story is told with video and audio logs instead of actors. “It’s kind of like immersive theater, if it was combined with like a Burning Man art installation and a role-playing game,”Renda added. 

Renda felt Columbus was the right place to bring Otherworld to life, and not just because of the abandoned retail space that’s available. “There’s a lot of people looking for, you know, culture, cultural activities like arts and entertainment, so it seemed like a good spot to do it from that angle,” he said. Our proximity to other large cities also convinced him. “We’re looking to not only attract people from Columbus, but to make it more of a regional thing.”

With the uptick in interest in escape rooms and other forms of immersive entertainment, it seemed to Renda like the right time to take things to the next level. “There’s so much information coming at us all the time; we just need to be interacting with it somehow,” he said. 

How far Otherworld’s guests will take these interactions remains an open question, even to the designers. As the storyline and the art evolve, so do the possibilities for the experience. It’s “taking that idea of this immersive entertainment and really branching it and seeing where the limitations are,” Drexler-Russell said.  

So how many levels could this world go? Plan a visit to Otherworld and find out for yourself.


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Food & Drink

Restaurant Review: Alqueria puts twists on American faves

Mike Thomas

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Bringing a new restaurant to market is an undertaking notoriously fraught with peril—in most cases.

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“We took the keys the last week of October, and we told everybody we wanted to be open by the middle of January,” chef Patrick Marker says of Alqueria Farmhouse Kitchen, which he co-owns with his business partner, chef Jacob Hough. “The way these things usually work out, there are tons of setbacks, and I think we were really lucky.”

There may be some luck involved in avoiding red tape and construction delays that accompany the typical opening, but the smooth sailing enjoyed by Marker and Hough is also the result of countless hours of hard work
and preparation.

As the former home of The Angry Baker, the University District space Marker and Hough chose for their restaurant was already fairly well-suited to their needs. When it came to executing the renovations necessary to bring their concept to life, the duo did much of the heavy lifting themselves.

“It was a lot of long days of us and our bar manager Michael [Marsan], the three of us in here together, just kind of squirreled away,” explains chef Hough of the construction process. “We know everything about each other now,” he adds with a laugh. “There are no more secrets!”

After 10 years working together in the tight confines of a kitchen, it is hard to imagine that any secrets would remain between Marker and Hough. The two met at upscale German Village staple Barcelona, where they spent a decade working together as sous chefs. 

Prior to their shared stint at Barcelona, the two chefs each forged their paths in the culinary arts in their own way. Hough’s is the classic story of learning from his mother and grandmother in the kitchen as a child, often using ingredients plucked fresh from his grandfather’s garden. He attended culinary school at the Pennsylvania Culinary Academy in Pittsburgh right out of high school and has never looked back.

In Marker’s suburban upbringing, food was viewed as a necessity more than a communal family experience by his busy, working parents. He discovered his love for cooking through a high school job as a dishwasher in a nursing home, where he was sometimes called upon to lend a hand preparing meals. A culinary degree from Johnson and Wales in Provincetown, Rhode Island followed, and Marker spent his twenties in kitchens in tourist destinations of the American South, before finding his way to Columbus’ Barcelona.

It comes as no surprise that the marriage of two distinct food influences is the defining feature of Marker and Hough’s new menu. At Alqueria, locally-sourced American comfort food classics are often presented with a Spanish twist, an homage to the duo’s shared history at Barcelona.

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Pan-roasted Lake Erie walleye is paired with gnocchi in a Spanish-inspired green sofrito broth. The menu’s charcuterie offerings bring Spain’s meats and cheeses to bear, while charred octopus—a holdover favorite from the Barcelona days—encourages patrons to push their boundaries outside of the familiar.  

“It’s been freeing, because the constraint was trying to stay in the realm of Spanish cooking,” chef Marker explains of making the transition from Barcelona to his own restaurant. “There were some flavors that maybe we wanted to explore that we didn’t get the chance to. Here, we’re saying it’s American with some Spanish influence, but we feel like we can pull any ingredient in and make it successful.”

Twists on American classics help the fare at Alqueria stand out from its peers in the elevated comfort food scene. Nashville-style hot chicken, the ubiquitous menu item for any modern comfort food joint worth its salt, is here paired with a cheddar and pork-infused waffle. This lunch entree is served with a drizzle of buttermilk dill dressing and topped with horseradish pickle slices for a unique, deconstructed approach to the modern classic dish.

Marker and Hough take a farm-to-table approach to procuring their ingredients, which in their view means always sourcing local ingredients when they are available, allowing for some wiggle-room for creativity when necessary. (You won’t find too many Ohio-sourced octopi, after all). For the two chefs, the farm-to-table mentality extends to the design sense of the space, which is adorned with ample reclaimed barn wood and assorted antique knick-knacks.

Along with bar manager Marsan, who constructed the restaurant’s drink menu of locally-minded beer, wine, and signature cocktails, chefs Marker and Hough are excited to see what the next chapter of their culinary journey has in store. “If you’re seriously committed to a life in the culinary field, I think the idea is that you want to have your own place,” says Marker, with Hough adding of their experience so far with Alqueria, “It’s been a fun journey; we’re living a childhood dream.” •

Alqueria is located at 247 King Ave. Visit alqueriacolumbus.com for a menu and hours.

Click here for a chance to win dinner for 2 during Restaurant Week!

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Hobbies 101: How and why to get hooked on knitting

Laura Dachenbach

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Welcome to a series of articles to help you find your next hobby. Hobbies give us something to be passionate about, a creative outlet, and an alternative way to be productive. So stick around. Better well-being is just a lazy afternoon away.

Knitting

via GIPHY

“It keeps me from killing people.”

That’s a response I got from an actual knitter when I inquired about his hobby. It’s true that knitting literally helps you unwind. But knitting isn’t just a way to relax. (Or the above case, to serve as a public service.) It’s a way to be productive, because at the end of each session, you’ve got a unique, maybe slightly misshapen, full-of-love project to keep or pass off as a gift. And you’ll join a bevy of celebrities such as Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, David Arquette, Ryan Gosling, and Amanda Seyfried who turn their cares to a pair of needles and yarn. 

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Seriously, knitting promotes mindfulness through repetitive motion and rhythmic patterns. The effects can be similar to meditation. The movements your eyes make as you knit are thought to be a memory booster, and it’s a completely portable hobby that you can take virtually anywhere: the doctor’s office, the break room, a bar. No matter where you and your ball of yarn go, you’re sure to strike up conversation. “Watcha makin’?” Or in my case, “Do you have any anger management issues I should know about?”

If you didn’t get personal knitting lessons from grandma, don’t worry. A host of craft and textile stores are ready to help you get started on your next scarf, hat, shrug, or blanket.

614 Knit Studio | 4400 Indianola Ave.
A project-based approach (mittens, hats) to knitting for all levels. If you get hooked, join the Happy Hour Yarn Club!

Sew to Speak | 752 High St.
You’ll find beginner knitting for kids and adults (including finger knitting!) with suggested materials. 

The Yarn Shop | 1125 Kenny Centre Mall
An assortment of leveled classes and projects. 

Knitting Temptations |  35 S High St.
Knitting Temptations offers beginning and advanced classes in knitting and crochet, as well as groups that knit projects for charitable causes.

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Watch: Columbus couple becomes first to say “I Doo” at Doo Dah Parade

Mitch Hooper

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Lead by Scott Hammond, Morgan Miller and Jamie Figley became the first couple to tie the knot while marching in the completely mobile wedding at the Doo Dah Parade 2019.

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Video by Mitch Hooper.
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