In just a few weeks, the exuberant clatter of pinball will return to one of Pittsburgh’s premiere silverball spots.

Doug Polka, one of four new owners of the popular Lawrenceville pinball parlor, Kickback Pinball Cafe, says he’s waiting on one final inspection from the county before reopening to the public.

“We saw an opportunity to step in and improve some things and also keep it in the community,” says Polka, adding that “there’s no place like it in the city” where you can play as many pinball games in one location.

Barring another unforeseen setback, Kickback is set to open within two to three weeks.

Former owner Mara Kline opened the cozy Butler Avenue spot in 2013 and decided to move on from the venture this spring. Around that time, she spoke with Polka, who runs a small side business providing pinball machines to area venues, including Kickback.

Polka is also Tournament Director at the Professional Amateur Pinball Association in Carnegie, home to the annual PAPA Pinball World Championships. Elizabeth Cromwell, assistant director of operations at PAPA, is also part owner, along with Justin and Maria Brooks.

While Kickback is certainly not the only arcade in town, it is the only location that offers pinball exclusively. (If you want Tetris, take it somewhere else.)

“This place is not only dedicated to pinball, but to pinball done right,” says Pittsburgh Pinball League Senior Official, Joe Scaletta. PPL has hosted a weekly league night at Kickback on Sundays since 2013, attracting on average 30 to 50 people at any one time.

“These guys are pinball experts and absolute enthusiasts,” says Scaletta. “They live and breath it.”

New Kickback Pinball Cafe co-owner Doug Polka. Photo courtesy Haggerty Media.

Shortly after taking over, the new owners announced an Indiegogo campaign to upgrade the facilities. In less than one day they reached their desired goal of $5,000.

“We were incredibly humbled,” says Polka. “It’s one thing to have people support you. It’s another thing to have them put their hard-earned money out there to see it reopen.”

Casual visitors probably won’t notice much of a difference. Kickback’s menu will remain heavy on paninis and salads. Coffee will now come from La Prima Espresso in the Strip— “because they’re awesome,” says Polka—and they’ll also open a few hours earlier in the morning to try to catch the early morning coffee crowd.

They’re also planning to introduce a pinball happy hour, where games will be made available at discounted rates. Polka anticipates keeping about 15-20 machines on site at any given time, and plans to rotate machines out regularly to keep things from getting stale. The popular weekly tournament will return Wednesday nights as well.

Kickback will also be the first Pittsburgh location designated as a “Stern Army” location, meaning they’ll be among the first to receive games from the world’s largest pinball manufacturer. On August 12, they’ll host the official Pittsburgh launch party for Stern’s new Star Wars machine, which will be set to “free play” all day long.

“We want to keep a lot of the same vibe it had before,” says Polka. “You can’t take your kids to Hambone’s on a Thursday night to play pinball. This has an old-school arcade vibe. There are no age restrictions. Just come in and have a good time.”

Brian Conway

Brian Conway is a writer and photographer whose articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune and local publications. In his free time, he operates Tripsburgh. Brian lives in the South Side.