Photo by Sean Jacquemain
It's not uncommon - or hard - for a pub or cafe to keep Scrabble, chess and Bananagrams somewhere in a neglected corner. But when Snakes & Lattes opened in 2010, it did so with an outspoken and infectious enthusiasm for board games, and that has kept it packed and expanding ever since.
Snakes & Lattes is known for its signature wall of games new, old, hardcore, casual, quick and time-sucking, but not for its selection of beer and wine. Along with Netflix, alcohol is a required ingredient to replicate that slow night in with friends.
Snakes' ongoing cycle of renovations designed to carve out more space has made the pursuit of liquor licences a nightmare. The solution? Open up Snakes & Lagers, a new place on College west of Bathurst. Now, thanks to your beer buzz, those teeny tiny Catan road pieces are doomed to be misplaced under chairs, down stairs and, god knows, maybe coat pockets and shoes.
"We're one of the first restaurant/bar/cafés with a true dedication to board games," says Snakes & Lattes/Lagers event and PR manager Sean Jacquemain.
There have been board game stores that sold pop and chips and bars that have had a measly collection of games, he adds. "But we hire people who are passionate about games and about sharing that love with other people. That's one of the big reasons for our success."
You need that passion among employees when the booklet of instructions for each increasingly complex game gets longer and longer. The European invasion of board games has made Risk look like Candy Land. Who wouldn't appreciate a server spending 15 minutes explaining Tokaido while the table across from you makes up the rules for Can't Stop as they go along? Not many bars put any energy into explaining the rules for their worn-out Red Green Show Monopoly.
Lagers' main floor echoes with the sound of rattling dice. The wooden beam-and-stone-wall look, like a tavern where you'd begin a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, came about by happenstance, according to Jacquemain.
The second floor looks a little plainer but offers a lot more room. The main space is fairly narrow for any big board hullabaloo. Maybe that's where you'd take an e-date so you don't seem "too into this."
"Geek culture is becoming mainstream," says Jacquemain. "There is geek pride. The old idea that playing games was something you did only in your mother's basement is being proven wrong. These games are much more mainstream than they were even just a few years ago."
He's right. Board game enthusiasts are not nearly as niche as they used to be. When Snakes opened, Cards Against Humanity, Pandemic, Settlers Of Catan and more outsiders to the family-fun-night collection were introducing themselves.
Today's slow-burn audience seems much more willing to learn, adapt and master new, more complicated rule sets if it means getting to screw over their friends outside of Jenga, and there's a steady stream of new, experimental board games to keep that desire sated.
Lagers plans to take it easy on the strictly nostalgia-baiting games, those big boxes with elaborate volcano death-trap set-up time and little else.
The backroom library houses a lot of familiar faces: Clue, Fluxx, Cranium, Ra. Likewise, the pub menu offers hip noshes - edamame, fried Brussels sprouts and duck-fat fries. At the original establishment, I could make a big deal out of a good King of Tokyo roll, but now I can do so while actually feeling bigger than I am after a few Beau's.
"We can go watch a movie, we can go bowling, we can do all sorts of different things," says Jacquemain, though not to the tune of The Safety Dance, "but there's something about sitting across the table from someone and experiencing light, or heavy, competition.
"We used to think we'd be part of a niche market. We were never sure it would be so successful.
"Then we found out there's a game for everyone."