Due to the crushing prices and lack of real estate, not to mention some straggling anti-racketeering laws, New York City ain’t exactly Portland when it comes to fully stocked pinball palaces. While most bars that bother to haul in a pinball game only haul in one or two, things aren’t too grim for flipper fanatics. Given inflation, pinball should be about $4.50 per game, but has awesomely stayed at around 50 cents per three balls since around 2000. Hence it’s one of your best entertainment options on a cheap night out.
10. Brooklyn Ice House
So much of the fun of pinball is how cool it feels to approach a machine in a dark corner, lean on it, shake it a bit, and shove more money into it when it’s being kind, all while letting its fab glow bounce off you, making you look better—not unlike flirting with women. For that you have this excellent, grimy, friendly dive in Red Hook. If any patrons are actually there, half of them are staycationists from Manhattan slumming for a night, and probably hanging out back in the patio; the other half are local drunks. So you can usually stride right up to the machine (Iron Man at the moment) and slap away to your hearts content.
318 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, 718-222-1865
9. Kettle of Fish
Ditto the Ice House vibe, only you’re in the West Village, so there’s a better chance of some rich douchebag annoying you by asking “They still make those things?!” while you’re trying to play. That said, this is a pretty cool, friendly place that’s only slightly sports bar-y; it has a jukebox, too, which should be some kind of law for bars with pinball machines. Plus you can osmosisly feel cool because Jack Kerouac hung out there. I hear he sucked at pinball though. (7B, at 108 Ave. B, is the 9a. here.)
59 Christopher Street, Manhattan, 212-414-2278
8. Mission Dolores
Expect this mucho-elbow-room, half open-air favorite to be packed—and with the way the games are set against the wall, things can get surprisingly tight for those who like to really get physical with their machine. But come in early on a Tuesday night, nab a pint from their fine tap list, and get flipping on one of their two games. The wall right next to you—full of old prison mug shots—makes for a nice nod to pinball’s outlaw past.
249 4th Ave., Brooklyn, 718-399-0099
7. Bar Great Harry
Like its brother bar, Mission Delores, Bar Great Harry is usually packed; plus some true blue tournament types hang out there, so it’s often hard to get on one of their three (rotating) games. But it’s a dark, fun spot, with big windows that open for some good Smith Street people watching, good tap beers, $1 bags of Unique Splits Pretzels (currently the best in America), and great classic punk playing, so it’s well worth the wait.
280 Smith Street, Brooklyn, 718-222-1103
6. The Owl Farm
5th Avenue in Park Slope seems to be a burgeoning pinball row. The Owl Farm—a brand-new, pinball-centric suds house from the Bar Great Harry/Mission Dolores syndicate—is the most exciting addition for the tournament types. More games, more taps, and good hangout genes means you should start your 5th Ave. crawl here.
297 Ninth Street, Brooklyn, 718-499-4988
5. High Dive
If the drinking part of the “Pinball Bars” equation takes precedence, then this neo-vintage haunt is a fine choice. Plus the free popcorn and outdoor patio are nice touches—a good pinball player needs some salty fuel and an occasional bout of fresh air between battles.
243 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-788-0401
4. Coney Island Freak Bar
Pinball is always better when it’s in an appropriately vintage setting, like this cool, lean budget renovated Coney Island hangout. The bottle beer selection is decent (featuring big bottles of Coney’s own brew), a few old pinball back-glasses festoon the walls, freaks (literally) hang out between Sideshow performances, Bermuda shorts-sporting tourists snap pics, and various burlesque performers and biker dudes canoodle. So when you saunter up to the eye-popping gorgeosity of the 1970s-era “Coney Island!” game housed in the corner, the mood and ‘tude are set. Yes, only one game, but what a game! And hey, you’re at Coney Island! It’s like being in a pinball machine just walking around there!
1208 Surf Ave., Brooklyn, 718-372-5159
Next up on the 5th Ave. pinball bar stumble is this newishly renovated hep hang. A younger crowd gawks at the graphic marvels of the older games this place stocks to match the desired ’70s kitschy vibe. An unusually cheap happy hour and “eh” food oil up the fingers for action. And those younger types will stink, so you can get on games quickly.
477 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 347-227-8196
2. Reciprocal Skates
Technically, this is not a bar (wink wink)—it’s a skate shop, and a good one at that. But Reciprocal has become the mecca for the silver-ball set. A rotating lot of 9 or 10 games is kept clean and in brand-new condition by the owner, who brings some of the games in from his personal collection. The space has recently been expanded to include a pinball arcade. A must, if not devised for getting that loopy, beer-fueled, third-ball gear going.
402 E. 11th Street, Manhattan, 212-388-9191
1. Satellite Lounge
Seven or eight games (pinball only!) shuffle through this bare-bones but not divey Williamsburg hangout. The seven games are usually well-kept and rotated; the background soundtrack is an appropriate mix of ’80s mall arcade memories and new indie stuff; and there’s a decent beer selection. Oddly, considering that this is one of the more laid back joints in Williamsburg, it’s rarely super crowded, so you can usually hop on a game without waiting for Mr. 45-minutes/ball Champion Man hogging up the fun.
143 Havemeyer Street, Brooklyn, no phone
Thanks to Keith Marlowe, Kristopher Medina, and Seth Porges.