From the moment a customer steps into board game café Hex & Company, it’s clear they won’t be bored. The game café, one of the many new eateries to open in Morningside Heights over the summer, is the second of its kind in Manhattan; not quite a restaurant or just another study spot, Hex & Company has over a thousand board and card games available for visitors to play for as long as they want.
The café opened to the public on Sept. 5 in the pop-up space on 112th Street and Broadway, which was formerly occupied until 2015 by home goods store Possibilities@Columbia. Hex & Company was co-created by Greg May, who also founded The Uncommons, a similar game café located near New York University in Greenwich Village, and fellow game café owner Dr. Jon Freeman, a neuroscientist who put his degree to work creating a program of board games intended to stimulate juvenile neurodevelopment at the Brooklyn Strategist.
To bring Hex & Company into being, the pair joined forces with Mark Miller, the former main composer and sound designer for video game company Sega of America, who signed on as the chief financial officer of the café.
“I love games, love coffee, love beer, and it just seemed like a natural fit,” May said.
May and Freeman have had the idea for an uptown game café for two years, but it didn’t begin to materialize until early 2016, when they entered talks with Columbia to rent a space from the University at 2906 Broadway, now a Spirit Halloween store.
“We’d been in negotiations with Columbia for over a year, and they were really excited to have us move in there, and we got a lease and were basically ready for a deal, and then it sort of went on pause because of some issues with the building,” May said.
As summer grew closer, May and his colleagues began to worry that they wouldn’t have time to open Hex & Company before the start of the school year. Columbia had still not given a date when the space would be available for them at the beginning of the summer, according to May, so May offered the idea of a pop-up space in one of Columbia’s properties, but said he received no response from the University.
Columbia University Facilities and Operations declined to comment on its negotiations with Hex & Company.
While space has not yet been a major limitation for Hex & Company, May is still eager to move the store from its current pop-up location into a larger spot.
“At The Uncommons, space has been a huge problem. It’s like Tokyo rush hour there in the evenings. It’s a two-hour wait. It’s 64 people in 800-some odd square feet,” May said. “This is twice as big as The Uncommons, and so space is less of a constraint, but we’d love to have more, do more, have a permanent home.”
For now, though, Hex & Company is settling into the space between Pinkberry and Shaking Crab. Plans for a full calendar of specialized game nights, including Magic: The Gathering events, roleplaying game nights, and open board game nights, are underway.
The menu includes coffee from the Brooklyn Roasting Company, smoothies, a variety of paninis and snacks, and locally sourced pastries, such as New York-based pretzel company Sigmund’s Pretzels and fellow Greenwich Village-founded bakery International Delights. The café menu will also expand to include beer and wine, pending a license approval.
May says that the response so far from the community has been positive.
“Even before we opened, it was crazy how many people would just walk in the door. We would have cardboard and paper on the door, and people would still walk in and ask when we would open, and what we were selling, and what this was,” he said. “It’s clear there’s a lot of demand for a board game café in the neighborhood.”
Hussein Rashid, an adjunct religion professor at Barnard, even told Miller that he plans to bring his Religion and Popular Culture class to the café next spring.
“There’s so much religion in gaming and board games,” Rashid said. “It’s a way to get students off campus and involved in the community, and the people at Hex & Company were really receptive to the idea.”
As for the future of Hex & Company, May, Miller, and Freeman hope to keep expanding the store and menu as business picks up.
“There’s been a great response from a lot of college folks,” May said. “A lot of people walk in and they’re like, ‘I had no idea there were this many board games in the world.’”