Snakes and Lattes on Sunday evening, papered up in advance of its first day of business, which is today.
Ben Castanie’s new Koreatown café, at 600 Bloor Street West, just east of Palmerston Avenue, will emphatically not have free Wi-Fi. In fact, laptops and their attendant air of isolation are completely counter to what Castanie is trying to do. “I just don’t want people sitting staring at their screens,” he says. Then he starts explaining the system of categorization he’d used to organize his café’s library of 1,500-plus board games.
Snakes and Lattes, as the café is (pretty cleverly) known, opened for business earlier today.
Owned by Castanie and his girlfriend, Aurelia Peynet—first-time entrepreneurs—the place looks similar to any other newly renovated café on its section of Bloor Street, except for the board games, which occupy a set of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves that run half the length of the room. Castanie amassed the collection over the course of two years, by diligently scouring garage sales and thrift stores. He inspected every box to ensure that no pieces were missing. A few must-have games were purchased new.
Snakes and Lattes is Toronto’s first “board game café.” Customers each pay a five-dollar flat fee for unlimited use of the game collection during a single visit. There are also drinks (including lattes, of course), tarts, and quiches. A liquor license is on the way.
The five-dollar fee, in addition to usage of the games, buys expert instruction-manual guidance.
Castanie, who is proudly French, but speaks English with a British accent because of time spent in the UK before he and Aurelia emigrated to Canada four years ago, is a believer in the power of games to bring people together. Anyone who comes in a small group should be prepared to make new friends.
“A game is not meant to be [played by] two,” he says. “So you know what? If there’s two groups, well then, we’ll just make sure they play together, right?”
“You learn a lot from people playing board games.”
A bookshelf holding some of the café’s 1,500-plus game collection.
The games on offer include many old favourites, but the catalogue runs far deeper than just the basics. Castanie is particularly proud of his selection of “Euro games,” so-called because they tend to be designed and produced in countries like Germany and France. Euro games are characterized by their simple rules, and their lack of player elimination. They’re considered quick and easy to learn, and they lend themselves to casual play. Settlers of Catan, a German game, is one particularly popular and well-known instance of the genre.
Castanie says the idea for a board game café originated with a French business concept known as a “toy-lending library,” which is a place where customers can rent games, board games, or other types of toys.
Board game cafés are not unheard of in other parts of the world. South Korea experienced a vogue for them, beginning about a decade ago—but Castanie, who would know, says that the fad, there, has peaked. Now, he says, board game cafés are beginning to become popular in English-speaking parts of Asia, like Singapore and Hong Kong.
Asked if he’s worried that the idea won’t catch on in Toronto, he grins.
“I don’t think so,” he says. “I think they’re gonna like it.”
Photos by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.