Walking into Rounding Third Bar and Grill, one is met with the expected atmosphere: televisions, moody lighting, tall bar stools, ample conversation and, of course, cold beer.
But as one passes the bar and enters the next room, there is a unexpected scene: a backgammon club.
Peter Abbott, the club's founder and a Wauwatosa resident, walks through the tall tables in the large, well-lit room with wood-planked floors that glisten. He's wearing a leather top hat and suspenders as he welcomes new and old faces alike to the gathering.
"I'm Peter, nice to meet you," he greets a newcomer.
Most are bundled up in thick sweaters. They unlatch their backgammon boards that, when folded up, look like briefcases, and settle into their seats with their beverage of choice.
Some in attendance have passed the middle-age mark and a variety of cologne scents waft through the air —but not in an overpowering way. Still, the crowd is diverse; a pair of young women join in, a man brings his grandson; all are welcome to the Milwaukee Backgammon Club, Abbott said.
With a board game club, typically the players are "more likely to be older people and more likely to be male," Abbott said. But the club is "really open to anybody," seasoned players and beginners alike; the latter are treated to lessons and coaching, if desired.
Backgammon is a popular and ancient board game. It is usually played with two players, although the Milwaukee Backgammon Club offers game called chouettes, or three people against one. The object of the game is to move all your checkers around the board and ultimately bear the checkers off the board. The first player to remove all their checkers is the winner.
Abbott has played backgammon for some time, dating back to the 1980s.He eventually learned of the Milwaukee Backgammon Club and joined it.
Over time, his presence at the club diminished; he got married and was caught up in other pastimes. The club itself dissolved, too.
Within the last couple years, Abbott picked up the game again — this time online.
"It improved my play considerably," Abbott said. "But I still liked to play with people."
So, Abbott began his search for a local backgammon club. He discovered a cribbage club in Milwaukee through meetup.com, a website that aims to connect people through shared interests. Abbott attended a cribbage gathering, but, for him, the game simply didn't offer the same adrenaline rush as backgammon did.
So, he turned to the meetup.com website again and started his own page for the Milwaukee Backgammon Club. The web page drew about 10 people, and another 10 ventured in from an advertisement placed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Abbott said he was aware of a few members from the old club, who also decided to join in on the local gathering instead of driving to Madison to play like they had been for some time.
Abbott has since created a dedicated website at mkebackgammon.org.
Now, all the group needed was a regular meeting place.
"That was a struggle," Abbott said, adding he was looking for a place near his Wauwatosa home — founder's privilege.
There was McGinn's on Bluemound Road, Cafe Bavaria in the Village of Wauwatosa, Colectivo Coffee near 68th and Wells and Burke's Irish Castle, also on Bluemound Road. None of the businesses could accommodate the weekly gathering of the backgammon club, Abbott said.
A Google search landed the group at Rounding Third and they've met there ever since. The group meets every Wednesday at 7 p.m. and alternates between open play and tournaments. To join in on tournaments, each player must pay $6 ($1 goes toward the group's website costs and the remainder is given to the top three tournament finishers).
"It's cheaper than going to a movie these days," said Sue Wroblewski, a backgammon player who was part of the old club in the 1980s. "I'm really so happy to find people again that love the game as much as I do."
Wroblewski, a resident of Milwaukee, said she makes frequent trips to Wauwatosa to visit her new grandchild. But Wednesday nights are different, she said.
"On Wednesday nights, I can't babysit," she said. "I get to play."
Plus, the game offers some mental diversion and improves math skills, she said.
"With backgammon you can be the best think-ahead person in the world, but you can't control the dice."
To learn more about the Milwaukee Backgammon Club and to see the leader board, visit mkebackgammon.org.
Correction: A previous version of the article innacurately described how to play backgammon. The object of the game is to move all your checkers around the board and ultimately bear the checkers off the board.