MESA, AZ — It's the middle of the week and there is a group laughing and playing Uno, another group setting up figurines, and two others are reviewing the rules to a game they're playing.
Behind them, a library of more than 650 games, from classics like "Battleship" and "Risk," new classics, like "Cards Against Humanity" and "Apples to Apples," and current popular games, such as "Ticket to Ride."
Business partners Adam Oligschlaeger and Gregg McCleary opened Silver Key Lounge in January 2021 in Mesa, tucked in the back of a shopping complex near Dobson and Guadalupe roads.
"It's like literally living the dream and it's exciting. It's a whole new realm and world. It's cool to be geeky. It's cool to have fun playing board games," said Oligschlaeger.
"That's the beautiful thing about board games, it brings all ages, all groups together," said McCleary.
At 5,000 square feet, they have the game library, about a half-dozen large tables for people to set up and play adventure games, regular tables for traditional board games, a live-streaming table, a private gaming room, a small bar with soda, wine, and beer, and a retail area where people can purchase games to take home.
They initially planned to open in 2020 but were delayed a year to secure more financing, and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and restrictions were put into place.
"We really pushed through, got it open January 12, and then around May, it just started turning around for us, people started coming out," said Oligschlaeger. "We're getting busier and busier every week. Revenues, everything are going up."
Their focus now, understandably, is getting the word out about their business. But, in the future, they'd like to add in a small kitchen where they can serve food (currently people can order their own food from nearby restaurants) and potentially expand with a second location.
There is no per-game fee, but there is a table fee. However, at the time of ABC15's visit, the owners were discussing replacing that fee with a minimum spend amount, similar to how comedy clubs operate.
During the pandemic, puzzles, board games, and video games became extra popular as people were home looking for things to do. Some of that has reportedly waned as restrictions have been lifted, people have returned to work, and are going out and about.
However, McCleary said Phoenix has continued to have a significant -- and growing -- gaming community.
"Phoenix has always had a strong gaming community," he said. "I can't think of a time when it didn't."
In recent years, more venues have opened in the Valley.
Endgame recently reopened in Mesa. Snakes & Lattes opened a few years ago in downtown Tempe. Mox Boarding House announced earlier this year plans to open a location in Chandler. And there is also Phoenix Gaming Lounge in Phoenix.
In terms of classic video games, Cobra Arcade Bar is a popular venue in downtown Phoenix. Stardust Lounge opened a couple of years ago inside Ziggy's Pizza. Level 1 Arcade Bar in downtown Gilbert is opening a second location in downtown Mesa. The Beer Research Institute is opening a second location, called B.R.I. Taproom, in downtown Mesa with classic arcade games and pinball machines.