Cards Against Humanity, the self-described “party game for horrible people,” plans to open Chicago Board Game Cafe, a restaurant and bar with a board game library and shop — plus an escape room basement — at the Margie’s Candies building in Logan Square early next year.
“This has been my dream for almost 10 years,” said Max Temkin, co-creator of Chicago-based Cards Against Humanity. Board game cafes exist in cities all over the world, said Temkin, but there isn’t a full service board game cafe in Chicago.
Temkin’s co-creators at Chicago Board Game Cafe include chef and COO, Aaron McKay, previously at Schwa, NoMi Kitchen and Mercat a la Planxa; director of games and retail, Eric Garneau; and producer of the escape rooms, Nathan Allen, artistic director of The House Theatre of Chicago.
Chicago Board Game Cafe will join Margie’s, with a history dating back to 1921, and a new dental office. Second locations of a Marz Brewing taproom and Wormhole coffee shop are also under construction, with about 20 apartments on the second floor.
This is not a prank from Cards Against Humanity. Though given the company’s mischievous history, you might be suspicious, too. While I’ve been tracking this project for over a year through social media posts, building permits and license applications, I won’t be sure until I have a grilled huarache in one hand (more on the menu below) and polyhedral dice in the other.
We met for a hard hat walk-through of the space, formerly home to several banks.
The main dining room will seat 90 people with a bar in the center. On the right, an enclosed kitchen with windows holds a bank vault, which will be converted into a walk-in cooler. In the back of the cafe along Western Avenue, a Viking themed mead hall with communal tables will be available for walk-ins and serve as an event space.
“We’ll be doing full-service food and beverage with cocktails, wine and beer,” said McKay, chef. “We are going to be doing dinner and eventually brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. We’ll be offering food that’s representative of some of our favorites from around the world.”
McKay previewed one of the dishes at a Vietnamese pop-up at Kimski just over a year ago.
“We do this hindquarter of chicken that’s bone out and skin on,” he said. “We press it flat so you get all this crispy skin business.” It’s served over bun (rice vermicelli noodles) with nuoc cham (dipping sauce), pickled vegetables and fresh herbs.
Mexico inspired another dish.
“We’re also doing these grilled huaraches with salsa negra that my wife and I learned about when we went to Mérida in the Yucatan peninsula,” said McKay. “They burn the chiles to the point where they’re black."
Syrian lamb and beef kebab Halabi with spicy Aleppo pepper tomato sauce and Thai nam tok neua, waterfall beef salad with grilled grass-fed meat, are among the other dishes.
When you enter on Milwaukee Avenue, there will be a host stand, coat check and box office for the escape rooms. To the right, you’ll find a waiting area and retail shop called Garneau’s. The shop will also feature a games on tap program.
“That’s a selection of six or seven games that we really love and can’t wait to share with people,” said Garneau, Minister of Games. The games will rotate quarterly, like a beers on tap list.
To the left of the dining room, the massive board game vault holds a growing collection of hundreds of games in floor-to-ceiling shelving, where Garneau will also run a board game concierge program, which is where customers will check out games during their visit.
“We’ll have a team of teachers who will listen to you, hear about your experience and interest in board games, to help match you with a game that will be a good fit for you and your table,” said Temkin.
“Right now we’re obsessed with these little games from Japan called Oink Games,” Temkin added. “They’re these adorable mini games that can fit in your backpack.”
Temkin travels to escape, literally. “I’ve done probably on the order of 100 escape rooms all over the world,” he said.
In the cafe basement (which also includes private dining rooms), there will be a small escape room lobby, along with two different escape room games to play: “The Last Defender,” which had an extended run at the Chopin Theatre in 2016, and its follow up, “Nova to Lodestar,” designed to debut in the new space.
“The best thing is that at the end, you are high-fiving and hugging with total strangers,” said Allen, producer.
Each experience is about 90 minutes long, with up to 16 players at a time, dressed in provided orange jumpsuit costumes.
“‘The Last Defender’ takes place in an alternate ’80s Cold War-era universe where everything is run on a kind of Atari 8-bit technology,” said Allen. “You’re working together as a team to try to prevent nuclear war with Russia, which turns out to be all but impossible to do.”
“‘Nova to Lodestar’ will split the team,” he said. “You’ll be separated into two different spaceships disabled out somewhere in the solar system. Most of you will die in space but the very best teams might be able to find a way out to some sort of safety.”
1965 N. Milwaukee Ave., chicagogamecafe.com
Dining daily, 4 p.m.-midnight, with a $30 deposit at Tock. Escape rooms, Thursday-Sunday, $39-$49. Dinner plus escape room package starts at $94 per person.
Reservations are open now for dining and escape rooms starting January 10, 2020. Walk-ins without a deposit will be welcome at the bar, small tables and communal tables when available. You can dine without playing board games or visiting the escape rooms.