Pinball Garage already planning expansion in Hamilton: What it will do

Judah Schram, 6, plays a game at Pinball Garage Thursday, May 20, 2021 in Hamilton. An expansion is planned for Pinball Garage that will add more pinball games and food options. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Judah Schram, 6, plays a game at Pinball Garage Thursday, May 20, 2021 in Hamilton. An expansion is planned for Pinball Garage that will add more pinball games and food options. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Brad Baker, owner of Pinball Garage in Hamilton, plans to expand his bar that’s filled with pinball machines this summer, almost doubling its size and including a restaurant serving from a permanent food truck he outfitted.

The Fairfield native also wants to ring some bells about how great he believes Hamilton is, with better things expected next year after the opening of Spooky Nook Sports Champion Mill, which is to be the country’s largest indoor sports complex.

The bar area in Pinball Garage, 113 N. 3rd St., now has 2,200 square feet with 40 pinball machines and 30 beer taps. The area soon to be added has another 2,000 square feet, with 30 more pinball games. There’s plenty of room for more expansions because the building has 12,000 square feet. His full-assembly pinball factory is in the back.

Baker’s new food truck, Brisketology, will open with the expansion, serving high-end brisket and barbeques from around the world using a custom wood smoker and char-broiler The truck will serve as the permanent kitchen with menus that change by the week. Waiters and waitresses will serve customers from the food truck.

“We want to really surprise people with a higher-quality food than people are expecting out of a bar,” Baker said. He plans to hand-grind and patty fresh burgers every day from brisket and cook it on a wood-fired grill.

A bar wasn’t planned

Baker, a Fairfield native, gained an investor on the Shark Tank television show in 2016 with his digital-pinball-making company VPcabs Virtual Pinball, also known as virtualpinball.com, which was in Fairfield. Three years ago, he moved to Hamilton because the former Goodyear Tires store had more room.

Digital pinball machines the company makes look like pinball cabinets, but have high-definition digital screens with computers in them “and you can play any pinball game ever made on one machine,” he said.

The pinball business was thriving before COVID-19 hit. In 2019, before the coronavirus, “We shipped around 1,400 machines,” Baker said. Yet because of pandemic shortages, “We can’t get parts now. We can’t get video cards. We have a bunch of machines ready to be shipped, but we’re waiting for parts.”

Baker never planned to open a bar.

“This whole thing came about because Tom Vanderhorst (Hamilton’s executive director of external services) came to me, because he heard about my Shark Tank thing, and he said, ‘Hey, I want you to open some sort of arcade and bar in the front of your building. You don’t know what to do with that, anyway.’”

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Pinball Garage bartender Larry Schmidlin serves beers from 30 taps and mixed drinks at the bar that specializes in high-end pinball games. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

Pinball Garage bartender Larry Schmidlin serves beers from 30 taps and mixed drinks at the bar that specializes in high-end pinball games. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

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Pinball Garage bartender Larry Schmidlin serves beers from 30 taps and mixed drinks at the bar that specializes in high-end pinball games. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

“We were only using the back,” Baker recalled. “And I said, ‘Tom, you’re out of your mind.’”

“Brad by far has the coolest pinball machines,” Vanderhorst said about the bar. “I think that’s one of the reasons he does well. And he’s got a good craft-beer selection.”

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The restaurant area will keep the garage’s red-white-and-blue color scheme.

Baker doesn’t hesitate making public that his 70 machines will be worth about $500,000, he said, because, “I also have 32 cameras around the building.”

Because of Covid, when Pinball Garage opened in the summer, it never had a grand opening.

Vanderhorst said about Baker, and others, like the owners of Municipal Brew Works, who hold other high-powered jobs: “You get people like that who are just smart people, and it doesn’t matter if it’s building pinball machines, making beer or smoking brisket. They’re just smart people and they’re hard workers. We’re lucky to have people like that.”

A Hamilton evangelist

Three years ago, after he moved his pinball-making-operations in, and Vanderhorst was suggesting a bar, “it was like, ‘Is Hamilton really doing that good?’” Baker said. “This was three years ago, and I had no knowledge of what was about to happen.”

“Because I lived in Fairfield,” he said. “Fairfieldians three years ago,” and many area residents, thought that way about Hamilton.

“But my vision right now is to show this entire region how awesome Hamilton is,” he said. “Hamilton is an awesome place to come to now, and it has been for a while. I fit in that category of a guy that didn’t come down here much, that didn’t really know things like Basil (1791), and Almond Sisters, and Casual Pint and Municipal Brew Works. Now that we’re here, it’s the best decision we’ve ever made, business-wise.”

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A customer at the Pinball Garage bar in Hamilton plays a game. Tokens are a quarter, and games typically cost 2-4 tokens, with tokens costing less if bought in bigger quantities. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

A customer at the Pinball Garage bar in Hamilton plays a game. Tokens are a quarter, and games typically cost 2-4 tokens, with tokens costing less if bought in bigger quantities. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

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A customer at the Pinball Garage bar in Hamilton plays a game. Tokens are a quarter, and games typically cost 2-4 tokens, with tokens costing less if bought in bigger quantities. MIKE RUTLEDGE/STAFF

“It might not even be a financially sound decision on the surface, because we’re so new, but I know if we don’t get ahead of this, then I’m going to miss some of the boat. And I want to be ready to hold as many people as we’re allowed to, to sell as many beers as we can, and for the people that come to Spooky to come here and say, ‘That’s a really cool place to hang out.”

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