What: Chicago Street Pinball Arcade
Where: 215 N. Chicago St., Joliet, IL (779) 279-8799
Friday and Saturday, 5pm-11pm
By appointment for private parties
Cost: $5 one hour, $10 all night
Chicago Street Pinball in Joliet just opened this past July, and is currently open only limited hours on a bit of a trial run basis.
Don’t think that means they’re hanging by a thread, though, that I’ll lead you all the way out there for kickass vintage pinball only to find an empty storefront. The place was started by brothers Chris and Mark Czarnowski, part of The Steelman Group that owns three buildings in downtown Joliet. They’re hoping to be part of a downtown renaissance. “[The Czarnowskis] are real go-getters and they have a really great vision,” Pam Owens, director of Joliet City Center Partnership, told the Joliet-based Herald News. “The guys doing our downtown plan are seeing the same thing. They are saying Joliet has a vibe. It’s not a white-bread community. A lot of towns have become very sterile, but Joliet has maintained its unique character.”
Joliet mayor Tom Giarrante agrees, telling the Herald News, “I think [the Czarnowskis] are ahead of the trend. I think they can see what’s happening downtown and they want to get in now before interest peaks. Once the transportation center [is there] and [with the addition of] the Joliet Junior College downtown, there’s no question that the cost of property and rentals will go up.” He’s referring to Joliet’s multi-modal transportation center set to be completed in 2015, a stop on the proposed high speed rail line from Chicago to St. Louis.
Brother Mark Czarnowski is the games half of the duo, who’s been collecting pinball games for years. He envisions Chicago Street Pinball as a part of the new “barcade” trend of arcades serving alcohol, such as HQ Beercade and Logan Arcade in Chicago. When I spoke to him, they were still working on getting a liquor license, although they did sell a few small snacks (soft drinks and bags of chips). There are plenty of nearby eats and bars a short walk from the place, in any event.
He also wants to expand their business with private event bookings as well as hosting pinball tournaments. According to a June 2, 2014 article in WIRED, membership in the International Flipper Pinball Association, an official sports league of the game, now exceeds 23,000, up from 500 in 2006. The Chicagoland area in particular is a pinball hub; the only company currently manufacturing pinball games is Stern Pinball in the suburb of Melrose Park, whose latest games include The Walking Dead and Metallica.
Playing pinball is certainly a more physically engaging experience than video games (although Chicago Street does have a small smattering of video games as well). “Really, pinball is a game of skill and chance,” says Courtney Balestier of WIRED. “Players say it’s about an 80:20 ratio on newer machines; older ones hew closer to 50:50, because [of the design of the games].”
The sign outside Chicago Street Pinball promises games from five decades, and that, they do deliver. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but the differences in games by era are pretty obvious, from Travel Time with its old school scoreboard of individually flipping numbers, to gimmicky games like Earth Shaker that have a “shake” feature that’ll make you think you broke the thing if you don’t know what’s going on.
Maybe it’s heresy to say this of a pinball joint, but my favorite game there was one of the five or so video games. At least it was vintage? It was a 1982 game called Pengo, which kind of reminded me of Pac Man (I used to be really good at Pac Man after getting the little table top version for Christmas as a tyke). Pengo is similar to Pac Man in that you go through a maze while monsters chase you, except in this case you’re a cute penguin and the walls are made of individual blocks of ice you can throw at the monsters for points. I guess the Pac Man template had been so thoroughly burned into my brain that messing with its basic structural environment just seemed like such gleeful anarchy to me. I was the number one high scorer, too (er, there were no prior scores up. “It resets every time you unplug it,” one of the employees said).
Chicago Street Pinball was a great time, and you really can’t beat the price with their unlimited play, pay as you enter arrangement. Once the fall semester’s over, I’ll try to go back and plan my Pengo world domination. Charles and I had a great time in Joliet, grabbing a quick but delicious dinner beforehand just a couple doors down (that’ll get its own entry).