Draughts, the capital’s latest concept cafe, hopes to capitalise on a new trend for beer and board games, with over 500 different tabletop games on offer
You could say that Toby Hamand – who quit his job a year ago to pursue his dream of opening London’s first board game cafe – likes to live by the roll of a dice. Now, with the launch date of the cafe rapidly approaching, the former sound engineer is finally able to admit his dream is becoming a reality.
“When I first told people they reacted with amusement and disbelief,” he says. “A common response is: ‘My pub’s got board games – how are you going to be any different?’ But when they hear how many we’ll have they realise quite how different it’s going to be.”
With the aim of stocking 500 games (and counting), Draughts, which will open in Hackney, east London, in September, hopes to be a significant fixture in what seems to be a burgeoning scene. Last July Thirsty Meeples in Oxford became the first board game cafe to open in the UK – stocking over 1,700 games along with high-quality coffee and a fridge full of craft beer. And much of the inspiration for both has come from the Canadian cafe Snakes and Lattes, which opened in Toronto in 2010 and has proved so popular that in January they opened a second, licensed venue in the city, Snakes and Lagers.
“Over the last 10-15 years board games has grown as a hobby,” says John Morgan, proprietor of Thirsty Meeples. “There’s a lot more choice and the games are much more involving. But it’s also about switching off from the internet and wireless culture we have in cafes now and having that interaction with people. I think that it’s inevitable more cafes will open.”
Indeed, for Hamand, the real impetus to open Draughts came from the fact that he thought if he didn’t do it soon, someone else would. This fear was confirmed when he discovered another man called Nick Curci was also planning to open one in Hackney – but rather than compete they decided to team up and open one together.
The project follows a series of concept cafes and bars to open in London – Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, the capital’s first cat cafe, was covered relentlessly by the national press, while a “pay-as-you-go” cafe in Shoreditch garnered similar interest, and The Four Quarters, a vintage arcade games bar, opened in Peckham this month. But while we can all agree on the universal appeal of cats, some may find it harder to imagine there being quite so much interest in board games.
Hamand, however, who has taken out a bank and government loan to fund the project, is confident. “There’s a whole generation who grew up playing video games but are now at an age where they don’t want to sit around doing that in the evening anymore,” he says. “We’re aiming it at people in their 20s and 30s who feel like they’re past going out and listening to rave music, but want to do an activity that’s a bit different to drinking at the pub.”
The cafe will feature an entire corner with shelves stacked full of games to choose from – making it as much a library as a place to socialise. Visitors to the cafe will be charged a flat fee of £5 to play the games for as long as they like, while members will be able to pay a reduced fee of £3.50. Trained staff will also be on hand to help introduce players to the rules of unfamiliar games. Forget Scrabble or Risk – expect to play games such as King of Tokyo, Chicken Cha Cha Cha or Munchkin.
And just like Thirsty Meeples and Snakes and Lagers, Draughts (as the name suggests) will serve a wide selection of beer on tap. Yet despite the reputation Monopoly has as a homewrecker, Hamand isn’t worried that the combination of alcohol and board games could lead to drunken brawls. “People aren’t going to be getting mashed while they’re playing,” he says. “The only concern I’ve got is drinks getting spilled on the boards.”
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