Pinball was once considered to be a public menace in the Valley. No, really.
Back in the late 1940s, pinball machines were growing in popularity during the post-World War II boom. They were also vilified by lawmakers (including then-Arizona Attorney General Fred O. Wilson) and police officials alike as tools of illegal gambling, as well as a corrupting influence on the young, and an affront to morality. The Arizona Republic even called them “nickel traps designed to snare school children's allowances and the stray coins of idlers” in a 1949 editorial.
A lot has changed over the past 70 years, to put it mildly. Pinball is widely considered to be a wholesome hobby for people of all ages. For evidence of such, check out the diverse crowds playing it at local arcades like StarFighters in Mesa and Tilt Studio in Tempe. This weekend, more than 2,500 people – including kids, teen, and adults – will also be playing retro and modern pinball games at the annual ZapCon in Mesa.
Those aren’t the only places around the Valley where you can play pinball these days, as its recent resurgence in popularity has caused local bars and businesses alike to offer games. For even more spots where you can play the silver ball in the metro Phoenix area, check out the following list of the best local places with pinball.
O’Connor’s Pub2601 West Dunlap Avenue
Wander into the back of this convivial Irish joint in north Phoenix, boy-o, and you’ll find six different pinball machines along one wall that are awaiting your quarters. O'Connor's selection runs the gamut from '70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s titles like Space Invaders, Stargate, Flash Gordon, and The Six Million Dollar Man to the more recent Deadpool game from 2018, which is just as chaotic as the character’s big-screen adventures. Keep an eye out for the occasional inebriated patron wandering past as they could potentially stumble into you during a critical moment in your game.
Hours: Daily, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. 602-997-7714.
Q & Brew3400 South Mill Avenue, Tempe
This Tempe pool hall and dive bar, has a certain throwback flair, as evidenced by the old-school machines located near its front door. In addition to the Bally-produced Twilight Zone and a circa-1996 Tales of the Arabian Nights, Q & Brew features a trio of vintage electro-mechanical games from way back in the day.
There’s the ultra-colorful Silver manufactured by Gottlieb in the mid-’50s and the quirky 1957 Baseball Deluxe created by Williams, which uses a joystick controlling a bat instead of flippers to thwack the silver ball. They’ve also got the 1960 bingo/pinball hybrid Laguna Beach.
Hours: Daily, noon-2 a.m. 480-968-3722.
Bonus Round24 West Camelback Road
In addition to its wealth of console, arcade, and board games, this self-proclaimed “nerd bar” in midtown Phoenix boasts the added bonus of pinball. Sure, there are only five titles available (including Red & Ted’s Road Show, Taxi, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the always entertaining Fish Tales) at Bonus Round, but each is free to play, allowing you to save your cash to splurge on any of Bonus Round’s lineup of geek-themed signature cocktails.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday, 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sunday, 4-10 p.m. 602-374-6936.
Golfland Sunsplash155 West Hampton Avenue, Mesa
The folks at Golfland Sunsplash in Mesa have a modest amount of silver ball action in their mix of attractions, games, and rides. Inside the castle arcade is a lineup of five machines, including Attack From Mars, Theatre of Magic, RollerCoaster Tycoon, and Spider-Man. Like any of its games, they require using a swipeable cash card, which will run you $10 for an hour of play.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Saturday, 10 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. 480-834-8319.
Castles N’ Coasters9445 North Metro Parkway East
At one time, Castles N' Coasters was a premier destination for local flipper fanatics. The center pit inside its Taj Mahal-like castle was once ringed with dozens of pinball games. These days, their collection has been whittled down to 17 machines, which are now located on its second level.
There are several superhero-themed games (such as Spider-Man, Batman, and Iron Man), fun offerings like Elvis and Who Dunnit, and Bally’s legendary Addams Family. Some of ’em can be a bit, um, dodgy (or even in disrepair), but if that’s no biggie, then play away.
Hours: Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-midnight. 602-997-7575.
Jesse James Comics 5140 West Peoria Avenue, Glendale
Comic books aren’t the only thing being served up in both retro and modern form at this Glendale geek haven. The rear of Jesse James Comics is dominated by close to a dozen machines, some of which are definitely unique (Monday Night Football, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, Mousin' Around!). Games will run you 50 cents each so be sure to raid your couch cushions for quarters before heading over for a visit.
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, 10 a.m.-midnight. 480-454-0820.
Lemoncade5754 West Glendale Avenue, Glendale
The interior of Lemoncade is alive with color, music, and activity. Graffiti and street art cover practically every inch of the walls, hip-hop plays nonstop from the sound system, and there are b-boy sessions and live podcasts happening on the regular. Adding to this lively milieu are a clutch of arcade and pinball games, the latter of which are on loan from a local collector. He even lent them a Star Wars machine autographed by Return of the Jedi actor Tim Rose.
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 2-10 p.m.; Friday-Sunday, noon-midnight. 623-300-4598.
Electric Bat Arcade25 West Southern Avenue, Tempe
Rachel Bess has a yen for pinball and all things spooky and macabre. Her Electric Bat Arcade, which is attached to Yucca Tap Room, has a mix of both. Covers of classic horror pulp magazines, creepy art prints, and even a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe hang from the blood-red walls, while horror-themed pinball games like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Walking Dead, and Attack from Mars are among its collection of 12 machines. Don’t let this keep you from stopping by for a few rounds or one of the tournaments that Bess regularly presents, as she’s plenty friendly.
There’s also a bit of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe to the place: Games inspired by bands (Iron Maiden, KISS, Metallica) are available for play and various photos of musicians like Freddie Mercury and Debbie Harry playing pinball are on display above the token machine.
Hours: Daily, 6 a.m.-2 a.m. 480-967-4777.
Tilt Studio5000 Arizona Mills Circle, #669, Tempe
Perched above Tilt Studio's colorful hullabaloo of ultra-modern arcade and redemption games is an array of 21 pins on its second floor. If you’re interested in getting your hands on the newer Stern titles (such as The Munsters, The Beatles, or Iron Maiden: Legacy of the Beast), Tilt will usually have ’em before any other arcade in town. But if retro is more your speed, they’ve got those kid of machines, too, not to mention an in-house bar/restaurant and plenty of room to get your game on. And the weekly tournaments on Tuesday nights, which are run by top-ranked female pinball player Tracy Lindbergh, are very popular.
“There's a lot of space, so it makes it easy to gather a large group of people and there's enough machines to handle 70 or 80 people,” Lindbergh says. “There's food there, there's drinks there, and there's enough pins and enough space to hold a really good tournament. So it's a great place overall.”
Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m. 480-648-1222.
StarFighters Arcade4840 East Jasmine Street, #102, Mesa
StarFighters soars above all other local pinball joints. It boasts the largest selection of machines (45) in the Valley, many of which are located along two rows stretching from the front of the main room to the back. There’s a mix of old-school favorites (Xenon, Space Shuttle, Black Hole) and more modern-day titles (Ghostbusters, AC/DC, Star Wars). Each game is kept in perfect working order by co-owners Steve Thomas and Mike Lovato and their staff.
Granted, StarFighters Arcade is only open weekends but top player Tracy Lindbergh says that’s one of the reasons everything’s shipshape. “People always say, 'I wish they were open more,' but I think the limited hours help them keep their machines running beautifully,” she says. “If they’re being played every day of the week, everything could be a mess. Things break when people play them a lot.” There’s also an admission fee ($10 each day or $35 each month) but every game is set to “free play” mode.
Hours: Friday-Saturday, 7-11 p.m.; Sunday, 3-7 p.m. 602-513-9532.
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