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Love for a Timeless Classic: Playing Pinball in Raleigh

Straddling a line between purely physical gaming components (such as foosball) and electronic gaming (traditional microprocessor controlled video games), pinball occupies a special place in the hearts of those who grew up in the era prior to computer and home console video games. Although I grew up with computer and console games, my first job was at a video arcade where I spent many nights cleaning and repairing coin-operated pinball machines.

Shortly after being reminded of this sentimental favorite, I embarked on a cross-town quest to play every pinball machine I could find.

The Pinball Mecca: Fat Daddy’s

Fat Daddy’s was suggested by a few friends as the quintessential location for pinball playing in Raleigh. It was mentioned for good reason: it’s the only place I could find that has more than one machine. The three machines available are Cueball Wizard, Cirqus Voltaire, and The Simpsons.

Of all the pinball machines I played, Cirqus Voltaire was my favorite. It wasn’t that the game play was especially interesting – after all, who really understands all the goals and objectives of pinball anyway? You just try to keep from losing the oversized ball bearing and hope to hit enough flashy things to get an extra play. I like it because it generates interest on its own merits rather than trying to strike a chord with a pop culture favorite. It loosely involved being involved with the circus, complete with a “ringmaster” that made me think of ‘Zoltar’ from the movie Big.

Fat Daddy’s
6201 Glenwood Ave

Playing to Live Music: Slim’s

Another stop on the journey was Slim’s Downtown Distillery. The upper floor of this live music venue has one pinball machine (South Park), a bowling video game, and a pool table. Although the plunger was sticky and needed some maintenance, it was a pretty good machine. The live music from downstairs and floor vibrations certainly added some unique points to gameplay. Trying to hear any of the sound effects was a lost cause.

Slim’s Downtown Distillery
227 S. Wilmington Street

Best for Nostalgia: The Alley

Although the pinball machine at The Alley (formerly known as Western Lanes) was my least favorite (Goldeneye 007), I played a few games here. Midnight bowling was in session, so with dim lights and pumping dance music and a large crowd visible from the game room, the environment stirred my memories from 1996 when video arcades were a cool place to hang out at.

The crew running The Alley are still in the midst of rennovations of the mid-century icon of Raleigh, so hopefully they’ll continue investing in coin-operated entertainment as well as of the 10-pin variety.

The Alley
2512 Hillsborough Street

The Gritty Favorite: Jackpot!

Jackpot! has the same pinball machine as Slim’s, but the environment is a bit off the beaten path. Jackpot has been a favorite bar of mine for some time now, but since I quit smoking a while ago, I’ve found myself here less and less. The music, the care-free attitude, and people are exactly what I’d want in finding a place to play pinball. Hell, there is even a pint glass holder next to the machine. The bartenders are of the highest caliber in Raleigh.

As is somewhat evident from the graffiti scrawled bathroom door above, playing at the Jackpot involves throwing some standards out of the window. For many, it’s completely worth it.

1303 Hillsborough Street

Gone but Not Forgotten: King’s Barcade

Above image credit: Abbyladybug

Very likely the first place in Raleigh I played pinball. Since shutting down, it has yet to be rivaled in the beautiful matrimony of live music and video games.

A Sad Find that isn’t in Raleigh: Destroyed Pinball Machine

Having no relation whatsoever to Raleigh, but tangentially related to this article is the photo above. For the past couple of years I’ve found myself taking a vacation in the New River gorge area of West Virginia, and on one such excursion I found the vandalized and destroyed pinball machine above. In a former mining equipment and supply factory, it lay in mud and debris, completely destroyed.

What are your memories of playing pinball in Raleigh? Several folks commented on the Cameron Village Subway post to mention Battlestations, the small underground arcade with just a few games. Where else was a good place to play in pinball’s heyday?

I’ve named four locations in the Raleigh area to play pinball, surely there are more. Where else can one find a working pinball machine?

Special thanks go out to Jay Winfrey, David Millsaps, Kitch, Stefanie Toftey, and Dugald Wilson for the suggestions on finding a local pinball machine.

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