As I struggled to defeat my offspring at Mortal Kombat while the Beastie Boys blared on the stereo and I had to keep my eyes from drifting upward to Tawny Kitaen frolicking across the hood of a car in that Whitesnake video (you know the one), I found myself wondering — is the new Pins Mechanical pandering to me?
If so, I kind of like it?
I generally find it annoying to have my nostalgia weaponized to sell me stuff — which is, to be fair, a very Generation X response. I don’t want inferior remakes of movies from my childhood (“Halloween Ends,” etc.). But Pins Mechanical at SouthSide Works finds the exact pressure points of nostalgia from a simpler time of pre-internet fun, and mashes those buttons furiously.
The space opened to the public on Thursday, Oct. 20, in the former SouthSide Works Cinema building where restaurants used to be — without the classic arcade’s usual sticky floors, scent of cigarettes and disconcerting feeling of watching a month’s earnings from mowing lawns disappear into a machine in 10 minutes.
Pittsburgh loves pinball, and that’s probably the biggest attraction here. With the unfortunate pandemic-related demise of the massive ReplayFX gaming festival, which accurately called itself “the largest arcade in the world,” this is probably as good as it’s going to get.
There are plenty of classic pinball machines — Iron Maiden, Monster Bash, Attack from Mars — and some new higher-tech ones like The Wizard of Oz, with multiple embedded video screens.
The video games are almost entirely culled from the 1980s-1990s heyday of the arcade, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and The Simpsons four-player co-op games are as chaotic and tricky as you remember.
Oh, and there are lots of couches, some of which happen to be set up in front of giant video screens hooked to Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo consoles.
There’s also duckpin bowling, which involves a smaller ball than normal bowling (which my son really wanted to throw like a baseball).
There are ping-pong tables, bocce courts, foosball, bubble hockey, Skee-Ball, a game that seems like beer pong with giant rubber trash cans, and something called Hookie, which involves throwing rings at a hook-laden scoreboard on the wall.
Every game here has one thing in common — you have to stand next to the person you’re teaming up with or trying to defeat. Does in-person gaming still have an audience?
Just a few years ago, the video arcade seemed ready to go the way of Atari’s 1983 adaptation of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (generally considered the worst video game ever made), now in an uncharted landfill somewhere.
But for some reason, the arcade seems to be coming back with a vengeance.
Of course, it seems to work best if you add other revenue streams, like fried chicken or booze.
Columbus-based Rise Brands operates nine Pins Mechanical locations (with more on the way), as well as Columbus’ famed 16-Bit Bar+Arcade, an early mover in the arcade-plus-beer revival. It employs about 125 people locally, including someone whose job is to repair the pinball and arcade games.
Pins Mechanical has two floors, and there will eventually be a tubular metal slide that you can take from the top floor to the bottom. It didn’t arrive in time for the opening, however.
There are garage doors that open to the outside on both levels, featuring fire pits and plenty of room to shake off the sweat of a particularly intense game of Donkey Kong or duckpin bowling.
The drinks are goofy and ridiculous and fun, like the neon blue Carrie Fisher (coconut rum and blueberry vodka) with a rock candy light saber sticking out, or the Hulk Hogan (raspberry vodka and lemonade) with a red, white and blue Bomb Pop submerged within.
There’s a pretty solid craft beer selection as well, with some local brews featured.
“We are thrilled to be taking our Pins Mechanical concept to a new state and I can’t think of a better city to open in than Pittsburgh,” says Troy Allen, founder of Rise Brands. “We’ve had our eye on the city for a while and found there was a growing demand from people in the area. … When people come to Pins, we want to take them back to a much simpler time when they were a kid.”
As a general rule, kids are encouraged to come in until 8 p.m., after which Pins is reserved for adults.
There’s no food, but you can order at any of the neighboring SouthSide Works restaurants and bring it in.
The mixed-use development will soon include two outdoor all-weather shipping container kiosks selling pizza and BBQ, and an Airstream trailer selling tacos. A sushi spot and Jeni’s Ice Creams will also be opening at some point within the complex.