Walking into Fairmont cafe Thirsty Dice, customers notice one thing; hundreds of board games lining the walls. A busy coffee bar-board game extravaganza, Thirsty Dice may seem unconventional, but it’s the boutique cafe’s mission to use food and games to create a new type of dining experience.
Opened in October, 2018, Thirsty Dice has become Philadelphia’s first “board game cafe.” On any given day the long communal tables are covered in people doing exactly what Thirsty Dice encourages; playing games. The options range from family-friendly games such as “Candy Land,” to complicated strategy games such as “Diplomacy”.
The idea for this unconventional experience came whenThirsty Dice owner Matt Hendricks visited the first board game-themed cafe in North America, Snakes and Lattes, located in Canada. After spending time at the cafe, Hendricks wanted to expand on the idea, “take that experience that I had up in Canada and bring it to a lot of people.”
Since it’s establishment, Thirsty Dice has received overwhelmingly positive support from the local community, growing to have several full-time employees and a regular following of board game enthusiasts.
“I think what makes a board game cafe work in Philly or even the neighborhood that we’re in is not necessarily the same thing that makes it work well in Vancouver,” Hendricks said. “When you have the opportunity to provide someone with a great experience that they didn’t know to ask for, just to see that you were able to create that moment for someone and better yet that someone and their family or their friends, is great.”
Thirsty Dice general manager Dylan Love says that the cafe has a goal of providing a unique experience for its customers that they wouldn’t be able to find other places. “It’s about having fun, connecting with people and being a restaurant,” Love explained. “It’s just a great place to come and interact with the people around you, and the people you love, and also enjoy some great food and drinks while you’re doing it.”
The dining experience is built around engaging and interacting with others, which can provide a sense of nostalgia for customers, Love explains. “We are here to go back to a time where we communicated with each other. We love unplugging, there are no screens here, there are very few outlets for you to charge your cellphone. We want you to put your phone away and interact in those times when we all remember being the happiest, which are around family and friends, often with a board game in front of us.”
In addition to the large selection of games, Thirsty Dice also hosts a variety of events including community “Dungeons and Dragons” nights, card tournaments, bar-style quiz games, and a plant exchange event. They even hold a weekly tutoring program for students from local elementary schools to study, get help and then play board games.
Events like these have sparked local interest in the cafe, bringing many new customers according to Love. Over the last several months, Thirsty Dice has gained a following of regular customers and continues to have new customers come to try the experience.
Thirsty Dice regular, Erica Gooch, claims that the cafe has a “really great vibe” and provides a relaxing place for her to spend time with her friends. Gooch said it’s nice “being able to try out new games without coming out of pocket.”
Newcomer Rose Cocchiaro sees the board game cafe as a place to unplug and challenge yourself. “Playing board games forces you to put the phone down and be in the moment, play a game and actually stretch your mind out a little bit, which we all need on a daily basis,” Cocchiaro said. “So you might as well have a drink while you do it.”
For Kristen Phinger, Thirsty Dice provides a different type of social scene. “Loud bars aren’t really my thing, so if you’re trying to meet other people it can be hard to talk to them, but if you start playing a game I feel like it’s easier for people to break the ice and just join in and start playing,” Phinger said. “You have a more natural dialogue.”
The future of Thirsty Dice looks bright according to Hendricks and Love. While Love sees more Thirsty Dice cafes opening in upcoming years, Hendricks still wants to work towards making the business even better. “There’s not one template yet,” Henricks said. “There’s still a lot of ground to cover to figure out what makes [Thirsty Dice] work best.”