Chicago Board Game Cafe opened last week in Bucktown, giving the city one of its most distinct places to dine. In a sea of homogenous restaurants, the team behind Cards Against Humanity have rebelled and created a sidewalk cafe motif that gives off both a nostalgic and futuristic vibe, one where customers can play games, dine, and drink comfortably. There are several thoughtful touches littered throughout the space (1965 N. Milwaukee Avenue) which neighbors Margie’s Candies, the iconic ice cream shop at Armitage, Milwaukee, and Western avenues.
After checking in at the host stand, customers will walk through a curtain where they enter the main atrium. A vintage cigarette machine will greet them, and the town store — named after director of games and retail Eric Garneau — is to the right. Guests can shop the store for all their gaming needs or grab a comic book off the spinner rack. The titles are curated by Challengers Comics, a store a short walk away.
String lights dangle from the high ceilings while plants and leaves surround the space. The large bar’s planted right in the middle with tables situated on the perimeter. The floor tiles look like old cobblestone. Though the time period for the setting is ambiguous, there’s an analog feel. Visitors should be on the lookout for Easter eggs woven in throughout the space. No spoilers here. There’s a back dining space for overflow and marathon game sessions. Four private rooms are in the basement, but they’re not ready for the public.
Ownership consulted with House Theater on the design, along with Von Weise Associates. They took an abstract approach. The prime directive was to create a public space where people could connect over board games, according to Max Temkin, co-founder of the Cards Against Humanity — the often-crass card game. Spain and Vietnam — countries where the cafe’s menu draws inspiration — have plenty of open-air spaces where people can leave their homes and hang outdoors. Temkin also mentioned beer gardens in Munich, Germany.
“It’s just a cool place to be, right?” Temkin wrote. “There’s old men playing chess and having espresso and people drinking wine and talking. That’s something American cities don’t accommodate very well for...just being out at night and seeing your neighbors.”
The menu goes beyond sandwiches. There’s no worry about being messy. As Temkin described “people are responsible enough to eat a normal grownup meal and play a game at the same time.” The tables are slightly larger to accommodate the games and plates. There’s also standing tables near the bar with round shelve stacked above. Customers can leave their cell phones or drinks on top without worrying they’ll get in the way of their games.
Lighting is also important, and Temkin borrowed some tricks from Disney’s theme parks. There’s multiple points of illumination at EPCOT Center’s Mexico pavilion, and it’s a subtle touch that provides warmth. The basement houses two escape rooms. Tickets must be purchased in advance. The first debuted over the weekend.
Tour through the space below. Chicago Board Game Cafe, now open, gives the city a breath of fresh air and is one of the most anticipated openings for 2020.