Pieces STL, St. Louis' First Board Game Cafe, Opens Next Week in Soulard (PHOTOS)

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PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
St. Louis first board game cafe — a restaurant/bar/space to play a game with friends or meet up with strangers — will open its doors next Wednesday, December 21.

The owners of Pieces STL (1535 S. 8th Street, info@stlpieces.com) have gathered more than 500 board games, both beloved and completely obscure. They've made some key changes to the Soulard space that previously held Franco, giving it a friendly, casual feel. They've lured a talented young chef from their favorite restaurant in Columbus, Ohio, persuading him to relocate to St. Louis (sight unseen!) to command the kitchen. And they've got a full bar of specialty cocktails all ready to go.

Now they just need a liquor license. With that all but certain to come by early next week, they say, they plan to have a few days of soft openings in the run up to Christmas — and even be open Christmas Eve for a low-key alternative to formal family dinners.

"We've been in the space for the last 30 days, cooking, preparing and prepping," says Laura Lettau, who co-owns the restaurant with husband James Lettau and their friend Ameet Rawal. "Now we feel confident to open."

All transplants to St. Louis, the three became good friends in 2012, with the Lettaus introducing Rawal to the board games they loved. Familiar with game cafes in other cities, they began planning to open one of their own in St. Louis. After Laura took a job in Ohio and found herself longing to return, the planning kicked up a notch, and a successful Kickstarter provided startup funds. Laura has since quit her job (and moved back to St. Louis) to focus full-time on Pieces STL, while her husband and Rawal continue to juggle their day jobs and this passion project.

Those familiar with Franco, which flourished as a fine dining spot for a decade, may realize that little on site has changed, yet the space somehow feels transformed. Bright blue chairs (acquired from the now-shuttered Gringo) add a pop of color, while reclaimed wood tables from Shellback Iron Works, located in Lemp Brewery, aim to provide a suitably sturdy base for the most intense competition. Throw pillows, sewn by James' mom, turn big window seats into cozy nooks, while three bookshelves hold voluminous game options, sorted from easy to hard, with an entire bookshelf of "party games" for those more accustomed to Pictionary than Dungeons and Dragons.

The partners, who are all vegetarians, dreamed up the menu, but it got new life when they brought on 22-year-old Jesse McGraw. Previously the kitchen manager at a restaurant they loved in Columbus called Market 65, McGraw agreed to move to St. Louis run the kitchen. But first he fine-tuned their broad strokes. "I narrowed it down and also expanded the meat options," McGraw notes. "The ideas I thought were great, I kept in there."

Every single dish can be ordered either vegetarian or for meat lovers. The poke bowl, for example, can be made with tuna or tofu. The Latin-flavored "Corncake Bowl" comes with either vegetarian chorizo or slow-roasted pork, but both versions are full of jicama, seasoned rice, your choice of salsa, avocado and Mexican slaw.

The "Corncake Bowl." - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • The "Corncake Bowl."
For the three owners, hiring has included not just the usual kitchen and wait staff, but two "game navigators," who are there to suggest a new game or even play referee if the players need it.

"People can holler at a game navigator or at management," Laura Lettau says. "We'll help you work through it."

Diners can visit Pieces only with email reservations for its soft opening on December 21 and 22. After that, the partners plan on regular hours, although they're closed both on Mondays and Christmas and New Year's Day. And yes, they're open on New Year's Eve until 1 a.m., although they ask that you make a reservation by email for that too (send info about how many are in your party and what time you'll be arriving to info@stlpieces.com).

"There's no cover, no excessively loud music and clean bathrooms," promises Laura Lettau.

Notes Rawal, "Not everyone wants to dance on New Year's." But who could possibly resist a nice big game of Cards Against Humanity?

Ameet Rawal and James and Laura Lettau. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Ameet Rawal and James and Laura Lettau.

See below for more photos of Pieces STL. After the holidays, they'll be open regularly Tuesday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday from 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

The cafe's library includes more than 500 games. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • The cafe's library includes more than 500 games.
Party games are on hand for less serious enthusiasts. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Party games are on hand for less serious enthusiasts.

Players can indicate when they're open to newcomers — or hoping to join a bigger group. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Players can indicate when they're open to newcomers — or hoping to join a bigger group.
A private room seating 8-10 can be reserved or commandeered if it's empty. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • A private room seating 8-10 can be reserved or commandeered if it's empty.

The poke bowl has a tofu option. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • The poke bowl has a tofu option.

Chef Jesse McGraw shows off a few dishes. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Chef Jesse McGraw shows off a few dishes.
Drink offerings include Brothers Drake, a mead served with bourbon for an apple pie flavor. - PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • PHOTO BY SARAH FENSKE
  • Drink offerings include Brothers Drake, a mead served with bourbon for an apple pie flavor.
We welcome tips and feedback. Email the author at sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com


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