Ode to Seattle’s unreal pinball scene
I say this with complete self-awareness for how dorky I sound—you don’t know how good we Seattleites have it when it comes to pinball. Yeah—pinball.
Seattle is a world-class city when it comes to both locations and competitions. That’s right, there is competitive pinball.
I was looking for a post idea for today and have been meaning to write this for a while and have to write something at some point about one of my biggest passions. Again, totally serious here.
Pinball is especially top of mind now because today is Friday—and Friday is tourney night at the neighborhood spot.
I’m trying to not write too long of posts, because they take a while and more because nobody really wants to read them. So I’ll bounce through a few things quick that explain why Seattle rocks for pins.
We’ve got so many good pinball bars. Way too many for me to list all of them. So instead of that I’ll run through my favorites and instead direct you to Skill-Shot and Pinball Maps—a great Seattle-centric website and quality app, respectively, for finding pinball machines.
The Ice Box
I am biased, yes. But if it wasn’t the case before then it is now—the Ice Box is the mecca for pinball in Seattle. They have a ton of games, they’re specifically all about pinball and now host multiple regional tournaments. Really, really good scene.
It’s also my regular spot, in every possible way. It’s in my part of the city, down in Frelard just off Leary. It has the weekly tournament (Fridays at 8:30) I most frequent. It’s the home bar for my league team. It’s where I had the rehearsal dinner before my wedding. It rocks.
Also, while you’re here, you can hit 4B’s, now run by the owner of The Ice Box—and with several machines of its own.
They don’t have near as many machines as The Ice Box or other places of its ilk, but Hounds Tooth does have my favorite wings in Seattle. And Miller Lite in a bottle.
The games—of which there’s probably like eight to ten or so—are good though. Quality mix.
I also love the location, a short bike ride away over in Greenwood, whose little downtown is one of Seattle’s more underrated main drags. While there, you can pop over to Coindexter for more games or, seemingly every bar on this block, karaoke every night of the week.
Real sleeper. Tucked over on 24th in Ballard, they’ve got a couple pinball rooms on the other side of quite the sultry doorway (you’ll see). Cozy scene, good bar. It’s a true neighborhood tavern that, when the weather’s okay, they throw open the garage door windows onto the sidewalk and street. They have about 12 games or so.
Best in Belltown. Which makes Jupiter the best downtown. While pinball is the top attraction here, the bar is also one of the arts and cultural centers of Seattle. They have various artists taking residency and showing their pieces on the walls, they have DJs spinning and they occasionally have live music as well.
If you wanna play pinball before or after doing something downtown, making a night of it with a stop after a Happy Hour or M’s game, this is the perfect place for it.
You can stop into Shorty’s, another great spot, while there. Don’t forget to check out their upstairs bar, which is cool as hell and features a miniature bowling game. Hard to explain. You’ll see.
This is, to my knowledge, Seattle’s OG pinball spot. Not the first, as far as I know (maybe?), but a foundational place. Two floors, multiple rooms, a whole lot of machines.
[Update: Shorty’s is the OG. Their first spot for sure. Still just as good in the new locale.]
If a Seattle friend posts to their IG Story from a pinball bar and you’re wondering where they’re at but they didn’t drop a geotag, it’s probably Add-A-Ball. It’s hip and funky—the bathroom has a miniature model of the bar with taxidermied mice as occupants—so people who don’t normally play pinball pop in. And pop in they do, especially on Fridays and Saturdays when the place is packed.
It’s the gateway bar to a serious pinball habit.
Georgetown Pizza & Arcade
This place is like May 2022 Julio Rodríguez. They’re pretty new to the scene as an establishment, opening less than a year ago, but coming in hot. They have these fun kitschy ‘90s machines that rock. If there’s a machine based on a summer blockbuster from 20-30 years ago—hello, Matthew Broderick-version Godzilla pinball—then you know it’s gonna be great.
Helping to fill the void created by the departure from Georgetown of the world-class Flip-Flip, Ding-Ding, this spot has 15+ machines if I remember right. Also, the pizza’s good.
Enjoyable spot, good vibes in a really cool neighborhood. Plenty other fun places—for pinball and otherwise—to hit down there, too.
First things first—it’s not that serious. I mean there are places where it could and can be, like the state championships or something (there are rankings and qualifiers and all this but we’ll leave that alone for now), but by and large it’s pretty chill. It’s like playing Underdog soccer or being on a beer-league softball team.
This is such a good place to start if you want to dip your toe in socially. There are so, so many. That means there’s almost assuredly a regular one not too far from any neighborhood in Seattle, plus competitions of all sizes available.
As I alluded to above, my go-to tournament is at The Ice Box on Friday nights. Now I haven’t played that many but the combination of time of week and the location, makes it probably the best weekly tournament in the city.
It’s five bucks to enter, three strikes and you’re out. So, you play until you lose three times, getting matched up with players with the same record (or close) as you go.
It’s a common format, but not the only one.
This Google Sheet has every tournament, its timing and its format.
Monday Night Pinball
I’m one season in and I can confidently say Monday Night Pinball absolutely rocks. It’s so good.
I’m not gonna fully explain all the intricacies but it’s pretty simple—you have a team of ten that plays out of your home bar. Sometimes bars even have two teams, like the Lakers and Clippers or Giants and Jets. It’s so good.
You play ten weeks in the regular season—half home games, half road games at various spots around the city—and the best teams go to the playoffs. Each game or match is four rounds and you play three of them, some singles and some doubles.
You don’t have to play every match, with people who aren’t on a team but want to play from time to time able to jump in and sub. Speaking of, that’s the best way to find out what it’s all about, sub in for a week or two. Join this Facebook group to see who needs a sub and hop on in.
• • • •
As good as all of this stuff is, as fun as all the places and events are, the people involved are right there with them.
The idea of pinball culture seems so weird and cringe in theory but let me tell you, it’s an awesome way to meet folks you never would have otherwise and it’s a great way to socially mix it up with them on a regular basis.
It’s a real community. And it rules.