Words by Carmen Macri
When my boyfriend called and asked if I wanted to go to Darby’s Dungeon with him, I was a little concerned. Not knowing anything about the place besides the name, my head went straight into the gutter (can you blame me?). But upon arrival, I was more than pleasantly surprised. No, It wasn’t a BDSM shop; it was better.
We were met with a welcoming troll, hundreds of board games and a bar — a Dungeons and Dragons-themed bar/coffee shop. (Not a full bar, but it gets the job done.) The tables are lined with fantasy maps with dragon and ogre heads mounted on the wall above.
Darby Montgomery, the proud owner and namesake of Darby’s Dungeon, was sick and tired of having no place (besides her own “dungeon”) for game nights, so, she decided to take matters into her own hands back in March 2019, boldly proclaiming, “F*** it, I’m making this happen!” And thus, her saga began.
“We would go to restaurants or bars, but they don’t want us sitting there for five hours. And the card shops around here were kind of gross,” Montgomery explained. “I just couldn’t get over the idea that, like, I could do this.”
After the realization, Montgomery wasted no time springing into action. With a burning desire to unleash something truly outlandish upon the unsuspecting Jacksonville scene, she dove in headfirst. Unfortunately, the timing was not on her side. Montgomery was returning from a tradeshow in Nevada, carrying valuable inventory worth more than $5,000, when the entire country unexpectedly went into lockdown. Rather than spending more on contractors and painters, Montgomery gathered her closest companions and made it a DIY dungeon. With the shop serving as an ideal blank canvas, Montgomery and her team had the opportunity to transform her visions into reality. However, due to a limited budget in the initial stages, the outcome had a “raw” aesthetic.
“We painted it this horrible color, I absolutely hated it,” Montgomery explained. “Then we put this B.S. carpet down that came in eight-by-eight squares. We literally just duct taped them down. I just handed one of my friends my credit card and said, ‘Go to Home Depot and find something.’”
Because of Montgomery’s consistent hosting of game nights at her residence, she managed to amass a considerable fan base. Consequently, when the time came for the grand opening, she already found herself surrounded by a dedicated clientele. There was no worry that Montgomery might struggle to bring in a crowd. Her loyal game partners and friends might have been more excited than she.
“I had been doing a bunch of events just getting the brand out there and doing a bunch on social media,” Montgomery said. “And so by the time I opened my doors, I had 1,400 followers. People felt like they were a part of this whole thing. Whenever it finally opened, they’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve been waiting for this.’”
Throughout our brief interview, the bar became teeming with a bustling crowd. In fact, it was so packed that Montgomery and I had to find a new spot to chat, surrendering our tabletop to a duo of avid gamers in need. And according to Montgomery, that’s an average night. Especially on the gbweekend or Tuesday night — Ladies Night— when ladies get a dollar off drinks and no table fees while Montgomery and the rest of the dungeon have free rein to “yell at men for being the absolute worst.” (I mean, c’mon. Sign me up.)
Driven by her personal experience, Montgomery aspires to cultivate an inclusive environment where women feel genuinely embraced within this community. “Ladies Night is great for getting the ladies out and meeting new people that have similar interests,” Montgomery explained. “Going into … games [as a woman], seriously, like, you immediately feel like a pariah. It doesn’t work. If you’re a woman, you’re getting shit on”
On Wednesday nights, Darby’s Dungeon dedicates their evenings to RPG (Role Play Game) sessions. Montgomery also emphasized that this particular night is exceptionally welcoming to beginners, further fostering the inclusive and accommodating atmosphere (though, Montgomery does recommend reaching out to her personally or through the shop’s social pages to rent a table in advance because the advanced players might gobble up the newbies). Fridays are Board Game Social nights which offer a wonderful opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals who share your passion. It’s an excellent occasion to forge new friendships and expand your social circle.
Darby’s Dungeon extends a warm invitation to anyone and everyone — with the only caveat being a simple request: “Don’t be an asshole.” So, if you’re in near Beach Boulevard and San Pablo Road and seeking a refreshingly different experience away from the ordinary Jacksonville haunts, check out Darby’s Dungeon. But be aware — there are three rules you must follow.
“No Jenga, no magic tricks and NO karaoke,” Montgomery says. “Jenga is jarring when it falls and startles me. Karaoke? No. Why the f*** would I do karaoke?”