Photo by Kierra Angell

On Board

In Eat, October 2022 by Melissa HowsamLeave a Comment

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The Kitchen Table is so much more than a board game cafe—it’s a social shift.

Whatever you thought you knew about board game bars… do not pass go, do not collect $200 and forget everything—including thoughts of sitting around playing Monopoly or Dungeons & Dragons in some dark dive. In fact, at hip hang The Kitchen Table board game cafe, you intentionally won’t find Monopoly at all. “I’ve always loved games,” laughs owner and game collector Sharon May, “just not that one.”

Instead, you’ll find a chic, bright, modern welcoming scratch kitchen and craft cocktail bar that competes in ambiance and offerings with some of the top hot spots in town, complete with 400 games to boot—running the gamut from two-player games to party games and everything in between, with carefully researched new additions each month.

Photo by Kierra Angell

First opened in 2019 before shuttering for two years starting March 2020 (thanks, pandemic), the neighboring sister concept to North Raleigh powerhouse restaurant Relish, also owned by May, was the second board game cafe to bow in NC—preceded only by Asheville’s Well Played.

While bars with board games are by no means new, “board game cafes”—bars built around the concept as a sort of board game sanctuary, complete with “game gurus” who teach games tableside—have absolutely emerged as an “it” trend. Already popular in Europe and Canada, the concepts are now taking off in the U.S. 

For its part, The Kitchen Table cafe was born out of a combo of hobby and happenstance. “My daughter had gone to the beach with friends and learned the game Ticket to Ride,” says May. “She brought it back home and we were instantly addicted.” At the same time, May was ruminating a concept for her newly acquired adjacent Relish space that wouldn’t exist in direct competition. “I found out there was such a thing as a board game cafe—and it was like ‘eureka!’”

While the closure was less than ideal, The Kitchen Table reemerged this spring (reopening exactly two years to the day) at a time when its very essence had catapulted its appeal—in this moment where, post-pandemic and isolation, people wanted to connect differently (never mind screen fatigue). Add to that, for many, shaking your money maker shoulder to shoulder in a sweaty club had become less appealing than, say, putting down your phone and sharing a table and some friendly competition with your besties, boo or even your grammy at “the kitchen table.” 

“As somebody who loved to go out, the pandemic wrecked that for me—but this place has fostered a different kind of socializing,” says The Kitchen Table Bar Manager Kierra Angell, who admittedly went from being “not really into board games” to becoming a self-dubbed “board game person” currently addicted to the houseplant-themed game Planted. “Literally anyone can get into the games here,” she adds. (And, fret not, OG games like Sorry and Scrabble, etc. are on offer—and games are smartly labeled from easy to medium to difficult.) 

Inspired by popular Toronto-based Snakes & Lattes, May implemented “gametenders”—people who love games, love to teach and talk about them, and who will help you find a game based on your interests, she says. Even if that interest is, say, Monopoly, they’ll help you
find an alternative.  

Monopoly is designed to keep making people lose until there is one winner—and if you’re out early you’re just watching along for hours with no joy,” says May. “But the European style of board gaming—and what’s popular now—is a cooperative style.” In essence, everybody plays together to beat a common goal. 

“And it’s so much fun,” says May. “I wanted it to be a place that is comfortable to go to, where you enjoyed sitting for a while with good food and drinks.” To wit, the local-leaning cocktail program crafted by Angell with aptly named sips like Casual Gamer, One More Turn and, of course, Ticket to Ride, is complemented by rotating drafts, bottles and wines. And in the spirit of being a fam-friendly all-are-welcome space (you do not have to be 21), spirit-free musings like the Dragon’s Breath and Meeple Mule deliver—all perf potions to wash down the scratch-made offerings that set The Kitchen Table apart.

“We are a full-on restaurant experience and a board-game experience,” says May. Ultimately, it’s all in the name. The Kitchen Table: It’s a place of connection. A place you go to strategize and cooperate. A chill convo-driven hang with good eats and dope drinks. Niche, meet necessity.

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