Cards Against Humanity is one of Chicago’s most famous brands. Starting from a Kickstarter campaign in 2010, the company has grown to the point that I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t have a copy of the game in their house. Now, co-founder Max Temkin is about to take the brand into the restaurant industry — into the iconic Margie’s Candies building in Logan Square (1965 N. Milwaukee Ave), to be exact.
It might seem like a stretch for a game company to open a restaurant, but Temkin notes that it’s not so strange in other places — board game restaurants and cafes are common in Europe. He was inspired by a Toronto café called Snakes and Lattes that he encountered while promoting Cards Against Humanity, and when he looked around the U.S., he didn’t find many examples of the genre. He’s been slowly mulling over the idea for almost a decade.
The idea for a restaurant never quite came together until Temkin met Chef Aaron McKay. McKay has done stints at Mercat a la Planxa, Schwa, and Nomi, and “Aaron was the missing piece,” Temkin says. “We don’t really have any qualifications to own a restaurant. We understand events, gaming, how to publicize things, but it’s a whole other thing to run a restaurant.”
So what exactly does a board game restaurant look like? Guests can make reservations for the Chicago Board Game Café in two-hour blocks of time (longer blocks will be available for more intense gaming sessions), and a “board game teacher” will help your group pick the perfect game, bring it to the table, and teach you the rules. The board game selection will focus on independent and locally-made games, but if you aren’t a huge board game nerd, titles like Scrabble and Monopoly will be available as well.
“A lot of board game cafes brag about having over 3,000 titles, and I feel overwhelmed,” Temkin says, noting he wants to give guests a more curated gaming experience.
McKay has created a global menu, and it doesn’t have an obnoxious theme — don’t expect Candyland desserts and Operation-themed drinks. “Other cafes that make us cringe work product placement into the menu, and there’s none of that,” McKay says.
The menu is eclectic, including flavors from Spain, Vietnam, and the Middle East. McKay is even making his own vermouth, sourcing Spanish conservas, and creating unique mixes of Vietnamese herbs that are hard to find in Chicago.
The goal of the café, as Temkin puts it, is to create a gathering space of the sort that is all too rare in the United States. “In other countries, after dinner, people go out to the market, the town square, they sit, they see neighbors, they play chess,” Temkin says. “American cities don’t do that very well. We really want to have that vibe; this is the town square to see your neighbors.”
The Chicago Board Game Café will open in January, and reservations are available now.