When you see a brightly colored board game, what comes to mind? The time you bought out the Boardwalk in Monopoly in colored cash? Or what about that 54-point word that your dad still gives you grief for in Scrabble? The sheer number of memories that can be made is endless and also somewhat comforting.
Downtown Jefferson City features a pub that brings this same feeling to life with its twinkling lights outside and its wall of carefully chosen board games and homey decor inside.
It’s the type of place where you can get a classy cocktail at the bar and then settle down with a group of friends for a familiar game of Clue — or any of the board games in the bar’s vast collection.
Their game of life
Owning and operating mid-Missouri’s first board game pub is not a casual venture for Cara and Adam Stark. Ever since meeting in college, the couple have shared a passion for board games. The chess board they received on their wedding day still sits atop an end table at Cork & Board. Cara and Adam bought the restaurant, then called Cork & Provisions, in October 2019, and initially continued the previous owner’s standard fine-dining experience.
It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic forced the restaurant to move to takeout only that Cara and Adam began thinking about rebranding. In June 2020, they rolled the dice on their rebranded board game-themed pub.
The Starks’ passion for running their business comes in handy, especially when the pub takes up most of their free time. While Cara also has a full-time job at a law firm, she’s at Cork & Board on the weekends and hosts trivia nights on Thursdays. Adam works at the pub all day, every day. Cara only remembers two times that Adam hasn’t been the one to close, one of which was the night of their honeymoon.
“When you feel like something represents what you want to put out into the world, then it’s easy to invest all your time and energy into it,” Cara says, while Adam nods in agreement.
Cork & Board candyland
The combination of upscale and casual aesthetics is reflected in the menu, which ranges from snacks and small bites to premium themed cocktails.
In between dice rolls and wheel spins, customers can munch on mac and cheese, hot dogs or bagel bites toasted with warm cheese or meats. They also have nibble bowls with mix-and-match M&M’s, animal crackers, gummy bears and other sweets for snacking in between turns.
Cara and Adam also serve cocktails that can be paired with charcuterie “cork boards” of colorful cheeses, cranberries, sausage, beet chips, gluten-free crackers and house preserves.
Daniela Ochoa, a waitress and bartender at Cork & Board, sometimes experiments with new drink concoctions, one of which became the cocktail Mrs. Peacock. The drink, named after a character in Clue, contains bourbon, elderflower liqueur, lime juice and club soda. Ochoa also recommends the popular Villainous, named after the Disney-themed game, which is a mix of vodka, blue curaçao, pineapple juice and lemonade. The pub also serves craft beers from Columbia’s Logboat Brewing Co. and wines.
Clue into the community
Cork & Board is one of a kind in the state with its extensive collection of over 150 games, which was carefully curated with help from Columbia’s Valhalla’s Gate Games. Customers pay a “library fee” of $5 per group and gain access to the entire selection with guidance from Cork & Board’s “game gurus,” who are staff members prepared to help you select the perfect game for your group’s style of play with no pressure.
The goal, according to the Starks, is to create an environment that is casual enough for relaxing activities yet perfect for a romantic evening.
“We’re a really intimate space,” Cara says. “It can work for your friends, it can work for your date and it’s 100% unique to anything else you could go to in Jefferson City.” Or Columbia, too, for that matter.
This is because board games bring people together, Cara says, whether by creating cross-generational connections or strengthening the dynamics in a relationship.
“Even if you do know each other really well, playing board games is still a good way to learn about each other,” Cara says.
The Starks take this to heart. Despite all the time they spend there, they never seem to get bored of board games.
“All of our friends know that if they want to see us, they can come to Cork & Board,” Cara says.