As people ease back into the nightlife scene, board game cafes and niche clubs offer relaxed ways to socialize. Here’s where you can play shuffleboard and Guess Who.
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This story is part of an occasional series exploring nightlife in New York.
On any given Friday night, you will probably find Jonathan Schnapp racing among 10 shuffleboard courts in a thrift-shop jumpsuit, doling out rules and strategic wisdom to Brooklyn’s newest players.
Mr. Schnapp, 49, opened Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club nearly 10 years ago in Gowanus, Brooklyn. And even though the space functions as a nightclub on weekends with blaring music, glitter-covered bartenders and cocktails named after shuffleboard greats, the game is about far more than drinking while banging pucks around.
“It’s like trying to like be the anti-nightclub in a way,” Mr. Schnapp said last weekend, as a Pitbull song blasted over the club’s speakers. “Never so crowded, never so expensive, never door stress, never cover charges, never any of these things that make it so we don’t want to go out anymore.”
His strategy is working — on top of a dedicated league that usually plays at the courts on Mondays and Tuesdays, Royal Palms attracts hundreds of customers each weekend who play until the club closes at 2 a.m.
But shuffleboard isn’t the only game that New Yorkers can play into the night. There are bocce courts at Brooklyn’s Union Hall; table games at Cellar Dog in Greenwich Village; several Barcade locations, which often have pinball machines and video games alongside drinks; and plenty of pool halls (including Amsterdam Billiards Club in Manhattan and Break Bar in Queens) sprinkled around the city.
There are also a handful of board game cafes. The Uncommons, in Greenwich Village, routinely has a bustling crowd and a wait for tables in the evening.
Eden Buenaventura, 30, and Cristhal Fuertes were celebrating Ms. Fuertes’s 31st birthday at the cafe last Friday night, playing rounds of Guess Who and Wavelength — a “telepathic board game” that neither of them had tried before. They said they picked the game because it had a colorful box, which complemented Ms. Fuertes’s puffy purple dress and each of their brightly painted nails.
“It’s so much better than just going out and drinking,” Ms. Buenaventura said. “This is fun because it’s an activity, you know? It’s more engaging.”
Ms. Buenaventura, who also participates in an archery league at Gotham Archery, said that while she also loves going out dancing, these game-oriented spaces have been a great way for her to connect with friends and meet new people.
“You can learn about your friends, like new things you didn’t know before,” she said. “It’s nice to get the hell out of your apartment.”
Greg May, who owns The Uncommons, along with two Hex & Company cafes on the Upper East and Upper West Sides, said that these spaces are an important nightlife option.
“We’re very non-drink friendly,” Mr. May, 40, said. “We’re not a bar — we’re a bar alternative.”
(He said that all of the cafes sell coffee, tea, beer and wine, but the Upper East Side location also has a full cocktail menu.)
Brooklyn has a few spaces for gamers to congregate. The Brooklyn Strategist, in Carroll Gardens, offers various games and scheduled tournaments, while Park Slope’s Sip & Play offers bubble tea along with its assortment of games and snacks.
“Me and my co-workers come here every Friday night,” said Bella Faye, a bubbly 21-year-old college student who was there playing Magic: The Gathering. “It’s a bunch of nerds, and it’s just fun.”
“Especially Magic — there’s so many of us,” Ms. Faye said. “It’s a very universal game that’s been around since the ’90s, so it’s a really fun conversation starter.”
Jonathan Li, the 24-year-old owner of Sip & Play, said that game nights can also be a nice way to connect with a different side of people.
“As a person that also goes out every once in a while, sometimes it’s just too much,” Mr. Li said. “Here you can still hang out with your friends in a more wholesome environment. Grab some bubble tea and coffee instead of alcohol and just chill out for a nice Friday.”
The Uncommons, 230 Thompson Street, uncommonsnyc.com
Cellar Dog, 75 Christopher Street, cellardog.net;
Amsterdam Billiards Club, 110 East 11th Street, amsterdambilliards.com
Space Billiards, 34 West 32nd Street, Floor 12, spacebilliard.com
Hex & Company, multiple locations, hexnyc.com
Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club, 514 Union Street, royalpalmsbrooklyn.com
Sip & Play, 471 Fifth Avenue, instagram.com/sipnplaynyc
Union Hall, 702 Union Street, unionhallny.com
The Brooklyn Strategist, 333 Court Street, thebrooklynstrategist.com
Barcade, multiple locations, barcadenewyork.com
Break Bar, 32-04 Broadway, instagram.com/breakastoria
Nightclubs? They’d Rather Play Shuffleboard and Jenga. – The New York Times