Halloween season is coming to an end, giving us just one more week of binging Type O Negative albums, catching up on our annual rewatching of classic horror films and selecting from the deluge of Halloween-themed bar events and house parties that signify the end of October.
That is, unless you want to just do these things year-round, which is not a bad idea. The trouble is finding a suitably spooky venue willing to invest in the theme for the other 11 months of the year.
Well, I’ve found just the place, and it’s an odd one. SpookEasy Lounge, located in Ybor City (of course) is in a secret room above The Stone Soup Company, a decidedly un-spooky bar and restaurant.
There’s an upstairs balcony lounge at Stone Soup, with a large bookcase adjacent, located at the top of the staircase. Wouldn’t you know it — the bookcase swivels out from the wall, revealing an entryway into a dark lounge hidden behind it.
The name SpookEasy may be on the nose, but it’s a fair match for the level of subtlety at work inside, which is to say none. I’m talking skeletons, scary animated portraits, skull-shaped glassware, ouija boards and even a countdown clock to Halloween.
In October, this is right on the money, but for the rest of the months it’s a bold proposition. After a full year of operation, it seems there’s enough of an audience, and it’s easy to see why after spending some time at the bar that is framed by columns of skulls.
There’s a lot to be said for committing to the bit, and absolutely no one can accuse the SpookEasy folks of flinching in this department. The Victorian gothic theme is as dense as the lounge’s heavy drapes and thickly textured blood-red wall plaster.
The Victorian loveseats and armchairs are straight out of a Poe story, and the chandeliers and wall-mounted candelabras give the room an ominous vibe. The wall art is fun and eclectic, ranging from old palm-reader advertisements to a faux stained-glass window depicting some sort of occult ritual.
Here’s the catch: no alcohol.
Now, you’re welcome to grab a cocktail downstairs at Stone Soup and bring it up, but there’s a one-drink minimum inside SpookEasy, and these are all of the booze-free variety. There’s Death Wish Coffee and Liquid Death canned water, herbal and botanical teas, as well as several varieties of kava and kratom.
To me, this is actually more on-theme than, say, a local craft-beer selection. There’s something compelling about a contemplative cup of bitter wormwood tea — perhaps boosted with a CBD upgrade for an additional $5 — in a darkened gothic tea lounge.
And, of course, there are kava and kratom. These also are appropriately themed and sorted by the purported effect of each variety. For example, the Morticia kava has more of a “body” effect, while the Zombie kava has a “mind” effect. Jekyll & Hyde, then, is a hybrid for both.
For kratom — simply called “botanical tea” on the menu — you have the typical white, green and red varieties: White Which, Frankenstein’s Monster and Vampire Blood, in this case.
I’m assuming the avoidance of the name kratom is because of the stigma surrounding the controversial Southeast Asian herbal remedy, which has become popular in tea bars. Kratom can act as a stimulant or a mild euphoric.
Like alcohol, it’s not a great idea to consume it often or in large quantities. Used in moderation, the biggest issue seems to be its aggressively bitter flavor, which is tempered by the option of 18 different flavored syrups.
You’re going to want to add one, trust me.
If kava or kratom aren’t your thing, I certainly recommend having a look at the coffin-shaped tea menu, which contains a great range of options.
Is it a chamomile kind of night, or are you looking for something a little more challenging, like the aforementioned wormwood?
SpookEasy won’t be everyone’s cup, but that’s a given. I could get into this kind of thing in March or August, no problem. If you like to keep it seasonal, however, you’ve got another week to travel through the secret door.
Information from tbt* files was used in this column.
— Contact Justin Grant at email@example.com. Follow @WordsWithJG.
At The Stone Soup Company, 1919 E 7th Avenue, Ybor City. (813) 857-5125; spookeasylounge.com
The vibe: A Victorian gothic tea and kava lounge, hidden behind a bookcase above a restaurant.
Food: Small plates, $5-$10. A full menu is available downstairs at The Stone Soup Company. Tea and kava, $5-$15. Beer, wine and liquor are available downstairs.
Specialty: While alcoholic beverages can be purchased downstairs and brought up to the lounge, the specialty at SpookEasy is kava and kratom, two substances that should not be consumed with alcohol. The bar also serves Death Wish Coffee, as well as a variety of herbal and botanical teas, ranging from relaxing chamomile to bitter, earthy wormwood. For $5 more, you can add CBD extract to any coffee or tea order.
Hours: noon to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; noon to midnight Friday-Saturday.