Downtown board game cafe The Loft expands into video-gaming

Downtown board game café The Loft is levelling up.


The business is expanding this month into the lower level of their Waller Street location. The new pub, which offers video games and board games, will be aptly called, “Level One.”
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The building has all the charms of an old Ottawa pub – plus a selection of over 750 new and vintage video game titles to play with friends over food and drink.

“It seemed like a natural extension of what we were doing upstairs with the board games,” said co-owner Mike Hopkins.

Upstairs MR. Hopkins and business partner Alessandro Argentina have been operating The Loft for almost two years. The business moved in after nightclub and bar Lunenburg closed.

The Loft prides itself on being a “screen free” zone that offers clients a chance to unplug and play board games in a friendly café environment. Level One is definitely more screen-focused, but the emphasis is still on socializing and fun.

“We bring a classic at-home or at-the-cottage activity and taking it to the next level by having a wide variety on offer,” said Mr. Hopkins. “We have a collection no one could really have in their home and we figured it would be the same kind of thing with video games.”

Games and consoles available range from the Atari 8600 to the Wii U, offering a mix of nostalgia and new technology. In addition to the wide selection of titles and consoles Hopkins said the atmosphere is also part of the appeal.

“There’s something about playing in a really social atmosphere and making it an event,” he said. “People can’t put their finger on it but it feels like they’re going out to do something.”

Aside from expanding the game options, Mr. Hopkins said Level One is allowing the business to expand its menu. Previously The Loft operated without a full kitchen, meaning its food offerings were more café-like than restaurant.

Level One will have its own chef and will offer a full pub-style menu, a draft beer selection and unique cocktails.

The idea is to turn the video game and board game experience into a “night out” – although Hopkins said you don’t need to be playing a game to order food and drinks.

“It’s basically a normal restaurant. We want the quality to be as high as anywhere else so people feel they can come in, have a really good meal and leave even if they don’t want to play games. If they want to play games, perfect,” said Mr. Hopkins.

Both owners said the space is welcoming to people of all skill levels regardless of gender or age.

“There’s a game for everyone. If people who think they don’t like games there’s one here for you,” said Mr. Hopkins. “We focus on having a broad appeal. You’re doing something fun, the person next to you is doing something fun. It’s a lively and vibrant place.”

He said Level One isn’t necessarily trying to appeal to a hard-core gaming group. Just like board games there is a huge variety of intensity. People come to The Loft to play complex tabletop strategy games as well as Monopoly or Guess Who.

Most of the video game titles on offer are “party” games that allow for multiple players and encourage friendly competition. The bar also has five coin-operated arcade games along the back wall.

“You can go upstairs and see such a wide group of people. Young people, old people, families, dates, every scenario and everyone feels welcome. That’s really important to us,” said Mr. Argentina. “Sometimes people bring their toddlers or their babies. They play Jenga with their kids.”

Guests at Level One can choose a console for the price of $13 per table, per hour. The pricing is based on how pool tables are delegated. Ordinary board games are $5 per person.

Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Argentina said the official launch is slated for March 29.

This article originally appeared on on March 9.

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