Plunk two coins into a machine—an illustrated Addams Family leering down from above the scoreboard—and pull back a springy pinball plunger that rockets a shiny silver orb amongst flashing lights and the dings of earned points. It’s nostalgia on four chrome legs, and yet, the nearly 90-year-old pastime is more alive than ever in the Emerald City.
Dan Halligan, 49, grew up in the University District, and as a kid he rode his bike from arcade to arcade along the Ave, sinking quarters into hungry pinball machines. But Halligan, who organizes the decade-old Northwest Pinball and Arcade Show, remembers when the arcades died out sometime in the ’90s and, with them, those games of yore. One place kept pinball alive. Shorty’s opened in Belltown in 1997—boozeless at the time and full of owner Avout Vander Werf’s 25 pinball machines, which he shipped from his hometown of Amsterdam. And so a revival began.
“The rebirth of pinball didn’t happen because of companies. It happened because of the people who loved it,” says Halligan. In 2008 a new wave in pinballdom came along. Thanks to the pinball show, a community of collectors grew, and more bars wanted to install machines and host tournaments. And tournaments beget some ace pinball wizards.
Three of the world’s top 10 pinball pros call Seattle home. No other city comes close. One such local is Raymond Davidson, this year’s International Flipper Pinball Association’s World Champion. To win the title, the 24-year-old bested Cayle George—who, yes, also hails from Seattle. “I learned a lot of my pinball skills from Cayle,” says Davidson, which fits the general sentiment of the scene: a collaborative community of really pinball-obsessed people.
In our techcentric city, in an era of virtual gaming, pinball is a tactile antidote. A built-in bar helps too. Barcades now span the city. In Fremont Add-a-Ball is the in-home arcade you always wished you had. John John’s Game Room is a Capitol Hill go-to. Flip Flip Ding Ding in Georgetown provides pinball alongside pints. And joining Shorty’s in Belltown this year is Jupiter, where nearly 30 machines will make you test your skill shots—and leave a few quarters poorer.