Updated Aug. 14
What kind of beer pairs well with backgammon? What wine varietal best complements a round of Trivial Pursuit?
Thirsty Dice Cafe, slated to open this fall, will be a bar and restaurant with a fully stocked library of roughly 800 board games. Which will make the cafe, located at 1642 Fairmount Ave. in a former dye factory, one of the rare places in the city — outside your living room, that is — where you can get a buzz on while playing Battleship.
According to owner Matt Hendricks, Thirsty Dice’s main concern will be a full and immersive board game experience. He intends for the cafe to be a place where friends can relax over a checkerboard or Yahtzee cup. Yes, there’s booze, but it’s mostly there to enhance the game experience.
“I like to have a glass of wine when I play games,” Hendricks said. “A lot of people like to have beer. The focus is really on comfort, and alcohol’s an important facet.”
The cafe will have what Hendricks called a “library fee” — somewhere in the ballpark of $7, though he hasn’t made a final decision yet — that will grant patrons full access to the massive board game collection. That’s in contrast to some other cafes he’s visited that charge $25 for 30 minutes and $35 for an hour. Here, “you pay the fee and you can spend as much time as you like.”
One of Thirsty Dice’s more inventive features will be the presence of “gametenders,” staffers whose sole job is to walk you through a game you’ve never played before so you’re not stuck with the arduous task of poring through a rulebook.
“It helps ease you into the experience and makes you comfortable. It’s interactive and much more efficient,” Hendricks said. “The way I think of it is, you’re bringing hospitality to the experience of the game.”
Considering this cultural moment is teeming with all things retro — see the ongoing renaissance of vinyl records, for example — it makes sense that analog gaming would also enjoy a resurgence. In 2017, market research company NPD Group reported sales of tabletop games grew by 28 percent during the previous year, with global sales coming in at $9.6 billion.
Capitalizing on this return to in-person gaming, a number of board game cafes have cropped up around the U.S. and Canada in recent years, and they’re already very much a thing in the UK.
Hendricks suggested smartphone fatigue may have a lot to do with the trend. “With technology and everything, there’s a lot to be said for having rich, face-to face interactions with people.”
Hendricks said Thirsty Dice will indeed have table service for food and drink, and he noted that wait staff will be conscious of giving patrons some space if a game starts heating up: “It can get pretty intense, and we don’t want to disrupt that.”
Though the menu is still being developed, Hendricks said, it’s in the capable hands of chef Rebecca Foxman, who designed the menu at MeltKraft in Reading Terminal Market, and who more recently co-founded Fox & Son Fancy Corn Dogs, also at RTM.
Her focus “has really been on food that’s going to put people back in a space where they’re comfortable and nostalgic,” Hendricks said, while remaining intentionally vague about what exactly that means. “Rebecca is really phenomenal with that.”
The alcohol program is also slated to have a nostalgic throughline. Among other, not-yet-announced brewers, Thirsty Dice will feature beer from Fishtown’s Evil Genius Beer Company, which runs a brewpub with its own throwback aesthetic, complete with board games on every table and a Sega Genesis by the door.
Outside of alcohol, Hendricks is collaborating with Herman’s Coffee on a full menu of coffee and espresso drinks, including a Thirsty Dice Blend.
“We want to make sure we have fun options for people who don’t drink,” he said. “We want to keep the concept accessible to a broad audience.”
There are a number of Thirsty Dice components that Hendricks is keeping close to the chest for the moment, including the cafe’s opening date and “a brilliant idea we’re incorporating” for table designs.
And what’s the contingency plan for lost pieces, the bane of every board game owner in history?
Hendricks laughed, and offered some quick advice: “The first step is deep breathing.”