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Coffee, Tea or…Board-games anyone?
Snakes and Lattes
Toronto, ON M6G 1K4
Located in The Annex at Bloor and Bathurst, Snakes and Lattes offers up a social setting where you can sit, have a coffee, and – play board games? After visiting the place we liked the concept so much that we decided to hit up co-owner Ben Castanie to shed some insight on its background and development.
“From the get go, we wanted people to feel comfortable,” says Ben. “After all, it’s all about board games, something that we’ve always played in the comfort of our home.”
From the outside looking in, you can already tell that the place has a very warm, den-like feel. Snakes and Lattes has a modest front with a mom-and-pop charm. The inside keeps the charm, with a brick wall interior and dark brown décor throughout. Seating varies from table and chair sets to couch spots.
“We are not big fan of metal/glass,” Ben continues. “It’s nice but doesn’t give the coziness that we were looking for.”
At peak socializing times, Snakes and Lattes is definitely among the busier spots, with a waiting period of about an hour or so. Waiting customers are placed on cue at the front cashier iPad, a tour through the Annex is recommended.
“Setting up in the Annex was never part of the original plan,” Ben recalls. “To tell you the truth, I never thought we could strike such a convenient location, on Bloor St, near the subway, in the middle of the Annex.”
It was a no-brainer, though, that investing in the spot would serve to benefit, not just in exposure but also in options for customers to occupy their time while waiting. “Since the concept was new, we were ready to spend a bit more in rent to be in a high visibility area; our budget was really tight so we got lucky.”
Any compromises in going that route? Overall, “There are only positives about 600 Bloor St; I cannot think of anything negative…
“A year after we opened, it’s still hard to know what made Snakes & Lattes successful?” he asks rhetorically. “Is it the name, the people, the concept, the location?”
“It’s probably everything,” he concludes, “but I tend to think location is a huge part of it.”
After, say, a browse through BMV, a call is returned and after the $5 cover, you have yourself a seat. Browse the menu, order a coffee to encourage the cozy tone. Scan the area from this vantage point, and it definitely feels like an old living room.
The biggest contribution to the ambience? The wall next to the front café: a full set of shelves, lined with their full collection of board games. “The way the games are organized – large wall, library style – is key for people to realize there are so many more games out there than the ones they already know,” says Ben.
On first look, there’s the temptation to challenge how short their collection is from having ‘everything.’
It may be the hardest game you play here.
Snakes and Lattes houses over a thousand titles (bet’cha didn’t think they had a thousand to begin with). Ben puts it bluntly: “We are here to introduce people to modern board gaming.”
The idea of board gaming as modern may not sit immediately in some circles. Video games being the current pop choice, there are those that consider board games to be something that dad played when he was young.
“I don’t really consider Board Game as a nostalgic activity,” Ben challenges. While he admits most of the latest entries into the board game catalog don’t reach the same popularity as classics like Monopoly or Scrabble, a look at their selection is proof that the pastime has a long history that’ll keep going.
“At first, our customers tend to go toward games that they know, like Jenga, Battleship, Life,” Ben notes. It’s entertaining to get into the mode of remembering games you might have played, like Operation or Connect Four; looking to see if you can take another shot at the 80s Batman board game or if they have Nightmare.
Once that’s done, what might he recommend? “I appreciate light games, under 45 minutes, with not-too-much AP (Analysis Paralysis) – taking too long to take your turn because there is too many options.
“I find the games are more fun when you don’t know who your opponent is and what is his objective.”
List of a few, with some brief comments provided:
TOP PICKS BY OWNER
- Pandemic: a co-operative game where the players are trying to save the world from viruses. Players are together (everyone wins or everyone loses).
- Cash and Guns: Each player has a foam gun in his hand and tries to bluff his way to the last round.
- Dixit: A very poetic game where you try to guess which pictures were put down by your friends.
- Anomia: A quick game where people are flipping cards in front of them. When 2 symbols match, they have to shout out some names related to the category shown on the card.
- Quelf: A completely crazy game that pushes people to perform stupid things around the cafe.
- Telestration: A broken telephone game where people have to keep drawing words until it becomes something completely different.
We played Jaberwocky for our first go: players must write short stories during each round, timed by a minute time glass. Prior to
each round, players are given cards with either terms to use or are simply ‘bluffs’; the objective is to correctly guess the term the player used IF he wasn’t bluffing. Fun, and definitely holding potential for a spur of the moment laugh.
Quelf was in the background during our visit, a group of seven making for a very active spot in the café. It’s not people sitting quietly while pondering their next move, here; it’s about getting people to see the fun in board games, which in this crowded setting becomes comfortably infectious.
As for the coffee ordered, the quality of the serving was more upscale than you’d expect. For a place that would be entertaining enough on the concept alone, Snakes and Lattes doesn’t slouch when it comes to their café fare.
“We bake everything in house and have vegan/gluten free options,” Ben says proudly. Among his faves are the sandwiches. “They are baguette sandwiches, with real nice ingredients. It took us a long time to find suppliers of descent quality ingredients for our sandwiches.” Ordered the most? “The Nutella Latte is a HIT,” he tells. “So is the HOT chocolate. We are importing sticks from Belgium… They melt into the milk… Delicious.”
The gang at Snakes and Lattes are an easygoing set, quick to converse casually and offer as much help picking a game as you’d like. They have a smooth level of tact in their delivery, too, slipping into a table convo sometimes, knowing when to (like when you’re about to browse) and when not to (when you’re head’s deep into a game). They know their customers, whether casual or more seasoned at this board game thing, and chat them up appropriately.
“We are 17 young guys and girls that are passionate,” Ben adds. “Everyone that works at the cafe can recommend games to people and teach them the rules. We are always making sure people have a good time here.”
For the enthusiast looking to continue playing at home, Snakes and Lattes has just set up a rental program for you to do so. Details are readily available from any of the staff.
Snakes and Lattes, while obviously something different, doesn’t disappoint as a fun spot to drop in on. It was crafted for that intent. “It took me 2 years to gather all the games we have,” Ben recounts. And the effort shows. “Since the place is about board games, it was important to create the ‘wow’ effect by displaying 1500+ board games from the get go. They are not all wicked games, but we have so many that when people ask for this obscure game we often say ‘Yep, we have it’.”
With all the silliness that could come from playing, it’s also a top choice for breaking the ice with someone you’d like to know better. Points are given for uniqueness and utilization both.