Shannon Ebbitt is a lifelong board game enthusiast. Her husband, Vince Ebbitt, is a veteran bartender. Two years ago, the couple decided to combine their passions and roll the dice on Mana Boardgame Tavern.
It opened in the North Side on Oct. 9.
Located on Western Avenue, the old Shamrock Inn now houses more than 250 games, from kid-friendly classics and deck-building diversions to party favorites and brain benders. A collector since she was old enough to say “checkmate!,” Shannon has another 250 games at home that she will continually add to the selection.
For a $5 fee, patrons get a Play Pass, giving them access to any game on the shelf (for large groups, the price is lowered to $2 per person). Monthly and yearly memberships are available for frequent visitors.
Guests will find the usual suspects produced by Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers and Hasbro, as well as an onslaught of new titles. Thanks to crowd-funding sites, anybody can design, produce and release their own game.
“Dozens of new board games hit Kickstarter every week,” Shannon says. “Target and Walmart are starting to carry more hobby games instead of traditional ones. I have a whole mix in here that people have never heard of.”
The Ebbitts hope to hire a Game Guru who will be on hand to go over the rules of each game and answer any questions players may have along the way.
Friends can gather at the front of the establishment — decorated like a turn-of-the-century mad scientist’s lab — where oversized leather chairs are arranged in the style of a gothic throne room.
The back of the venue has a collection of tables, perfect for large-scale games that require a lot of setup such as Fireball Island. The Ebbitts keep behemoths in storage, along with games that take hours to play. Patrons should request those titles — which are marked by an asterisk on the list — at least a day in advance.
Because Mana is a full-service bar without a kitchen, people under the age of 21 aren’t permitted inside.
If you are of legal drinking age, there’s plenty of booze to choose from. The draft system always has Pennsylvania-made beers and ciders on tap (including a gluten-free option) and the signature cocktail menu is extensive.
They take particular pride in their Bloody Marys. The Big Bloody Diehl is a super hot, housemade mix with vodka, a pepper-blend from Big Diehl Peppers in Verona and all the fixins’. It comes with a glass of water to extinguish the fire.
Need something less potent? Try the Grog, a low-alcohol concoction modified from an authentic pirate recipe.
Mana has a small food menu of soups, skewers and a meat and cheese board, and guests are welcome to bring in meals from other Western Ave. businesses such as Peppi’s, Bier’s Pub and Nicky’s Thai Kitchen. There’s a $5 fee per party for outside deliveries.
The Ebbitts encourage gaming groups and other clubs to make Mana their new go-to spot. The space is open from 3 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday and noon to 2 a.m. on Saturday.
An Ohio native, Shannon recalls falling asleep to the sounds of her parents and their friends playing Risk. Now she’s generating the same kind of buzz at Mana, a gaming term that means a source of magic.
“We like to think there’s a magical force behind what we do,” she says.