By Jamie Larson
The New House Rules Café
in Hudson, New York, is a tabletop game café, a playful new trend just reaching our region. House Rules offers up some elevated café fare and a stacked shelf of games, old and new. Proclaimed by friends a “board game sommelier,” the café’s owner and former wine seller Kathleen Miller prides herself on an innate ability to match you with the perfect game.
“Curating board games is very similar to curating wines,” says Miller, who spent five years at Hudson Wine Merchants
. “It’s very personal to an individual’s tastes.”
While the games are what makes House Rules unique, Miller’s focus started in the kitchen.
“I’ve wanted to do something based around comfort food my whole adult life,” Miller says. “I worked for Hudson Wine Merchants for five years and realized that when I started my own business I didn’t want to contribute to the bar culture. There are already a lot of bars.”
The menu is simple and unpretentious and is tailored not to get in the way of your cards, dice, fake money or figures. There’s a grilled cheese with artisan cheeses and house-made roasted tomato butter ($8), a couple of homemade hummus preparations ($7), roast beef on olive ciabatta ($9) and more. There is also a list of sides and salads that can easily be treated as small plates or tapas, great for sharing with friends.
House Rules also serves a variety of coffee drinks and milk shakes using Ronnybrook
dairy products and Jeni’s Ice Cream.
Much of the menu is or can be made vegetarian and gluten free.
If you don’t have the time for a round of Settlers of Catan
, House Rules is also excellent for takeout and they will soon be offering pre-made lunch boxes to grab and go. Miller is talking about delivery down the road.
“Board game cafés are this new industry and that gives me a lot of freedom to figure out what that can be,” Miller says. “I’ve always been a geek and now it’s sort of the age of the geek.”
Miller says that over the past 15 to 20 years there’s been a board game revolution. New games are coming out with innovative themes, mechanics and styles. One of the benefits of House Rules is you get to try them without buying them. There is a $5 charge for hanging out and playing games but that's waived if your bill goes over $45.
For someone who hasn’t gamed in years but wants to try something modern, Miller recommends Qwirkle
, a surprisingly deep tile-matching game. “It’s easy to learn at first but you can also play it with a high level of strategy.”
Miller actually didn’t think to incorporate board games into her culinary vision until 2015, but when she saw the corner storefront was for rent last year, she pulled the trigger. Miller and her crew undertook significant renovations and there are still more to come. The big comfy couches are on their way and plans are to complete a reading nook and the children’s area.
“I know how hard it can be to go somewhere with a baby and a toddler,” says Miller. “I kept seeing strollers on Warren Street and there’s just really not a lot to do for families. I started thinking about how to make it kid friendly and parent friendly.”
Board games make anyone feel like a kid again, she says, adding that it’s really relaxing to get away from screens and everyday stress and just enjoy a game with some good food and friends.
House Rules Café
757 Columbia St., Hudson, NY
Open every day: 7 a.m.–9 a.m. and 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Open until 9 p.m. Friday–Sunday.