New Hamilton business Pinball Garage opens to serve growing gaming crowd

A new Hamilton business offers dozens of pinball machines, hot and cold beverages and order-in service from a nearby restaurant.

Pinball Garage, 113 North 3rd St., features 30 pinball machines that are among the 50 top-rated pinball games of all time, including Medieval Madness, the No. 1 rated machine.

“Pinball is in a renaissance,” said owner Brad Baker. “It’s as popular as it’s ever been and it’s gaining popularity as younger people start to play it on their apps and then realize ‘Hey, this is a real game,’ so they want to go play it. We’ve had a lot of families’ dads bring their kids in to show their kids pinball for the first time, which is awesome. It’s really a game that transcends any age bracket.”

Its debut features the new and rare "Rick and Morty" pinball machine, which is based on the Adult Swim TV show of the same name, one of about 50 such machines in the world and only one of about three the public can play nationwide, Baker said.

Other popular titles are Batman, Iron Maiden, Jurassic Park, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Simpsons, Star Wars, Stranger Things, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Twilight Zone, The Walking Dead, Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory and a slew of 1990s originals not based upon a movie or TV show.

“We spared no expense on the pinball machines here,” Baker said. “We’ve invested a whole lot of money to bring high-quality pinball to the Hamilton area.”

The new business also includes eight arcade games. Once social distancing is no longer required, another 11 pinball machines will be added, Baker said.

Pinball Garage, which is working to stock a full bar, is partnering with All8Up Pizza & Hoagies owners Kathy and Tony Brown to deliver food.

“They are awesome people and their food’s really good, so that’s been working out well for us,” said Baker, who also is looking to find a food truck with which to partner. “We’re actually working with Tony to integrate it into a POS (point-of sale) system that we both can see where it will print a ticket.”

The storefront initially was meant to serve only as the new home of VPcabs Virtual Pinball, a business “Shark Tank” contestant Baker launched in 2013 to build virtual pinball machines capable of downloading “just about any pinball game ever made” for home gamers.

But Baker said when Hamilton officials discovered in 2018 that the business planned to move from Fairfield to the vacant storefront next door to the George McDulin Parking Garage, they urged him to consider opening a pinball arcade, bar or restaurant in the front of the building, which was most recently occupied by Jim's Auto Service Store before that business moved to Clinton Avenue.

“I kind of at first was like, ‘Oh man, I don’t have time to deal with all that’ and then they explained to me what was happening in Hamilton,” he said. “At that point, it was like hopefully Spooky Nook was going to be building and it made me look it over. I really didn’t know what to do with that front part, anyways.”

Calculating that adding a full-fledged restaurant to the space could cost about $250,000 caused him to hit the brakes on the project.

“It was just way too much construction and just an insane amount of money and would have taken away space from pinball,” he said.

Because new machines can be very expensive to purchase, many pinball hall owners will stuff their space with old machines that don’t play so well or aren’t popular. The resulting glut of options may make the place look like its filled with cool and interesting machines when “in reality it’s a lot of junk,” Baker said.

“We decided that we only wanted to put the best pinball machines that you could currently buy today in there initially so we could really have a draw,” he said.

It just its first two weekends, Pinball Garage has attracted customers from as far as six hours away, Baker said. Three unrelated families drove more than two hours each June 30 just to play pinball, he said.

“They’ve never been to Hamilton in their life,” Baker said. “We’re literally getting them (to) downtown Hamilton because of pinball. Because of VPcabs, we have a nationwide reach and we cross-promote stuff for Pinball Garage, never guessing that people would drive that far to come play pinball with us.”

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