The name “Chicago Board Game Cafe” accurately describes this new establishment from the minds behind Cards Against Humanity, but there’s a whole lot more going on inside than some tabletop cardplay.
Step inside the Margie's Candies building (1965 N. Milwaukee Ave.), and you’ll enter an atmosphere that has more in common with Epcot Center than your typical Chicago bar: You’ll see an old-timey train station, an English garden terrace, the Roman Pantheon, a small-town country eatery, a shop dedicated to macabre wares, and dozens more visual treats. Up near the front door, Garneau’s Trading Post peddles “bits and bobs” and “odds and ends” (it’s an actual shop where you can buy games), and in the rear you’ll find Mead Hall, a large event space styled like a medieval drinking hall. It’s all much more earnest than you might expect from the people whose claim to fame is “a party game for horrible people.”
And, of course, there are games to play — more than 300 of them. They’re housed inside the Game Vault (an actual bank vault, a relic from when the building was built as a First Securities Bank in 1916), a room with warm wooden shelves and a tin ceiling that make it feel like it might belong at an eccentric billionaire’s estate. Guests are free to check out any of the games to play at their table or the bar, and game concierges are on hand to suggest a game or give quick tutorials. If you’re looking for something a little more interactive, you can grab tickets to one of two escape rooms, which are produced and put on by the House Theatre of Chicago.
You’ll need sustenance during that epic Settlers of Catan game, but you’re not going to find chicken tenders or nachos here. The menu, from executive chef Aaron McKay (formerly of Schwa and NoMi) features a variety of Spanish and Vietnamese-inspired dishes. Most of the small plates are ideal for sharing; the Ca Ri Fries (curry on fries on jasmine rice) make an especially good table snack. The drink menu features a lineup of classic cocktails and a modest beer selection.
CBGC isn't the first board game cafe in Chicago, but it’s definitely the most ambitious. Even if you have no desire to play, it's worth popping in for a drink just to soak in the atmosphere.