Fun and Games at The Boardroom Cafe in Burlington
Making Space for Games
Kerry and her husband Mark opened The Boardroom in November of 2019, after finding and renovating a space on Burlington’s Mill Street, just across the river from downtown Winooski. Kerry relates that after visiting similar cafes in other cities, she had a clear vision of what she wanted in her own game cafe. First, she wanted to make sure that she hired wait staff who played a lot of games, so that they could teach customers how to play. She also wanted to make sure that people had enough room for their food and their games, and not be squeezed into a table for two. And she wanted customers to be able to get up and browse the games themselves, without having to request a specific game from a staff member. Finally, Kerry felt it was important that they didn’t charge by the hour, so that people could play as long as they want.
“We have people who come in as soon as we open at noon on Saturday and stay until we close—they eat all day, they have something to drink, they play four or five games, and it’s their monthly get together with their friends,” she says. (The Boardroom charges a $6 per person table fee to play games and offers monthly and yearly passes.)
A Rousing Success
After opening, Kerry was surprised at the enthusiastic community response. “When we initially opened, people in the community reached out to me and started donating games to us,” she says. They quickly developed regulars, who would come in three or four times a week. Additionally, as board games can be expensive, many customers would come in to try a game to see if they liked it enough to purchase it for themselves. Kerry adds that one of her favorite parts of the job was seeing parents come in and teach games they had when they were young to their own children.
They soon started offering group games like Dungeons and Dragons (with staff members serving as Dungeon Master), workshops, trivia nights, and other events. Unfortunately, after being open only a few months, The Boardroom had to close due to COVID-19. They reopened in mid-August (much to their customers’ delight) with new safety protocols in place such as having fewer tables to allow for social distancing and sanitizing each game after being used.
After talking to Kerry on the phone, I decided I had to visit in person, so on a rainy Tuesday evening my friend and I headed to the cafe to play some games. We were greeted by a friendly host who explained how the place works and offered suggestions about which game we should play based on some of our favorites. The cafe is set on two floors and feels both open and cozy at the same time, with the upper level overlooking the downstairs area. Games line all the walls and are color coded with stickers depending on their degree of difficulty (our host told us that they have one game that can take about 10 hours to play, and that’s if you know what you’re doing.) On Kerry’s recommendation we decided to play Parcheesi (like Sorry! but more strategic, she tells us). After a quick review of the rules with our host, we settled in at an upstairs table and moved our pieces around the board while enjoying a couple of cold IPAs. The cafe menu can only be described as comfort food, featuring a variety of PB&Js, grinders, milkshakes, and grilled cheeses—we chose two of the latter for our dinner.
No Wi-Fi Allowed
While it was a quiet evening at the cafe, it was easy to imagine it buzzing with groups of people laughing and talking strategy while immersed in their respective games. There’s a small sign on the wall that says “No Wi-Fi, Play Boardgames, Talk to Each Other.” Says Kerry, “It’s really about bringing people together. Most people who come here and hang out don’t even look at their phones because it’s not about that.” We spent an enjoyable hour at the cafe, and as we were leaving I couldn’t help thinking how, as things eventually return to normal, we could use more places like this that bring people together.