The place we played: Snakes and Lattes, Toronto, ON
Played in: October 2014
Snakes and Lattes (S&L) is often credited with being the place that launched Board Game Cafés in Canada, and bills itself as being the first of its kind in North America when it opened in 2010. When talking about Canadian board game cafés, you can’t escape a mention of this institution and we knew a blog about game cafés would be incomplete without a review of the S&L institution. Despite a few failed attempts, we finally got the chance to visit and to dig our teeth into the games library, food and coffee expertise of this (not so little) café in downtown Toronto.
We arrived on a Sunday morning just before they opened, and were pleasantly surprised to see a long line of eager gamers waiting out front of the café for the doors to open. The café quickly filled up with large groups, lots of families and kids, as well as couples and smaller groups like us. We secured a table in the back of the shop, perfectly located near the library for our stalking researching needs.
The library at S&L is very impressive. It’s the first place we’ve seen the 1979 fan-favourite, Dune sharing the shelves with brand-new releases and party games galore. Their organization system is super useful; coloured dots on the games tell you whether it’s great for two people, the level of difficulty/time the game requires, and those games that are so heavy that staff can’t offer too much support, but encourage you to go it on your own and be brave gamers!
After starting off our day with a rousing game of Camel Up, the guru on staff saw us staring intently at the shelves and offered up some great suggestions from their conveniently labeled new releases section. He said the staff had recently become quite taken with Black Fleet, and that (coupled with the incredible box art and the allure of becoming pirates) was enough for us to bring it back to our table.
The guru was great. He sat down with us when we opened Black Fleet and had us up and running within minutes (really!). He explained it simply, and made us laugh while doing it. This is one of the reasons we love seeing cafes with dedicated game gurus on staff.
As we mentioned, S&L opened in 2010, and eventually expand into the shop next door as its demand for space grew. Unfortunately, the ‘Frankenstein’ nature of the additions, as well as the age (and use) of the space is apparent. Compared to some of the new cafes that we’ve visited, S&L is looking a little rough around the edges. The table that we were at was tight for four people, a game, plus food, and quite wobbly – which is difficult with a game that has a lot of fiddly pieces like Five Tribes. The bathrooms were… well, James came back from his visit saying he probably should have held it. We’ll leave it at that. That said, we spoke to the friendly staff at the front desk while making some purchases from their vast and impressive retail selection, and they mentioned that a renovation was on the books.
The coffee was excellent, as was the food that we sampled. We saw sundaes being brought to neighbouring tables that made us pause in our games and drool. They were not serving alcohol at the time of our visit, but apparently this was also changing with the upcoming renovation. Where we were sitting was quite close to the staff area and kitchen, and at one point we were quite surprised by a cat that wandered into the main café area. The staff looked a bit thrown off too, but hey, maybe cats like Hanabi too?
It’s worth mentioning that S&L has a really great online presence: free Canadian shipping in their online store, checking your balance on your snakes and lattes card (with a loyalty program on its way) and a podcast that’s worth checking out. Did we mention the menu is online too?
We spent the whole afternoon at S&L and it made quite a good impression on us overall. The board game café scene in Canada would not be the same without it, and we are so happy to see the success of the café and that the already-incredible number and diversity of patrons that visit it is on the rise. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next.
Look and Feel: C+
Overall Score: B
Other Stuff we like:
Flat Fee: Yep!
Great for: Almost any type of group – S&L is very kid friendly (we saw lots of families playing games like Snakes and Ladders and Headbanz) but also more serious gamers and big groups – with a choice of almost any game you could imagine.
PS: Looking for a cafe near you? Want to see all our other reviews? Check out our List of Board Game Cafés in Canada