It’s Always Game Time at Pinball Garage

Checking out a family-friendly arcade in downtown Hamilton.
Some of the many pinball machine options.

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

A pinball arcade has a particular kind of sound. There are the mechanical dings and bells of any arcade, lilting up when a player does something good—you’ve defeated the bad guy! And there’s the downtrodden lilt when a player does something not-so-good—oops, you died.

But pinball has special sounds, an extra thwap thwap of flippers keeping a ball in play, the hollow scratch as a ball rolls down the playfield, the dings as the pop bumpers kick the ball away.

Pinball Garage, located in the old Goodyear Tire store in Hamilton, opened in June 2020 in the heart of the pandemic. Its original open date? March 2020, the week everything shut down, says owner Brad Baker.

Prior to opening the arcade, Baker owned VPcabs, which manufactured virtual pinball machines. He took the company on Shark Tank in 2016 and partnered with entrepreneur Daymond John. Things were going great, but COVID wiped out that business, in part because VPcabs couldn’t get at the computer parts it needed during shutdowns to make the machines.

But Pinball Garage was already in the works, so Baker redirected his focus there.

What sets Pinball Garage apart from other pinball arcades—and Baker estimates players can find six to 10 pinball joints within an hour of downtown Cincinnati—is its atmosphere: It’s family friendly. Yes, there’s a bar and a full menu with a from-scratch kitchen. But the arcade is also great for parents and kids. The party room has been rented for everything from birthdays to baby and bridal showers.

“Anyone can come and find something to enjoy,” Baker says.

The bar at Pinball Garage.

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

Pinball Garage has about 50 pinball machines, plus a collection of other games. Its most popular machines right now are Toy Story 4 and Stranger Things. Baker’s all-time favorite, though, is Medieval Madness from the ’90s, which features the voice of Tina Fey when she was a member of Chicago’s Second City comedy troupe.

“Almost all pinball is made in Chicago. It’s the mecca of pinball,” Baker says. “Williams [the company that made Medieval Madness] would find those voice actors really cheap to do voices for all the pinball machines. She happened to be one of the princesses.”

There are also more modern arcade games.

Photograph by Chris Von Holle

Yes, Fey’s voice is another excellent Pinball Garage sound, but Baker’s No. 1 favorite noise? Whenever someone swipes their card to play, the machine sounds the pulse of a light saber.

Brad Baker’s two tips to immediately improve your pinball game: 1) Don’t mash both flippers at the same time. 2) Aim the ball at the flashing lights.

Pinball Garage, 13 N. Third Street, Hamilton, (513) 805-7367

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