Las Vegas, home to some of the world's greatest resorts, a place where people come to blow their fortunes and live in excess. In a neon oasis, there is a flip side to all the glitz and glam, the underbelly of the facade. Everything here in Vegas is not about extravagance or excess, somethings just match the setting of an impossible city in the heart of wasteland.
Off the strip by several good miles and a couple blocks away from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, a dimly lit warehouse stands along Tropicana Avenue. Lacking the stereotypical neon sign, there is not even lit sign with basic lettering. Rather, a plain text on yellow banner stretched over the front which read nothing more than:
"PINBALL HALL OF FAME"
Despite being in this strange spot that would be entirely missed by any passerby, the parking lot remains partially full with the occasional small tour bus parked out front. Something good must be going on inside, and something good enough for people to seek out this odd little warehouse in the scathing desert heat.
We approached the building, doors blacked out with few people outside and opened up the doors. With a sudden blast of cool air, bongs and bells blasting, and flashing lights coming from every direction. It was immediately what this whole place was about, and why so many people just had to stop by.
Inside there are rows of pinball machines by the dozen, new and old, rare and common. The Pinball Hall of Fame markets itself as a museum, yet it is a museum that walks the line between a place to see old artifacts from a different era, and a social place to play arcade games and socialize with friends. Essentially, the whole place is a museum, taking machines that date back to the 1930s and allowing anyone to stop by and drop a few quarters inside.
It is not the fanciest of places by any means, there are some panels missing from the ceiling; the bathroom door does not always close all the way; some of the stools scattered about are ripped and torn; and there are piles of junk and equipment stacked in the back on a workbench. Yet, despite all of this, I could not imagine it any other way. The Pinball Hall of Fame is something that the Las Vegas is not, where everyone there tries to sell itself as something picturesque, this place keeps itself authentic. It has undeniable charm and character. It is simply a place where people can come and enjoy what the machines were always meant to do, rather than seeing them behind glass.
This is not saying the place is a dump, after all, it still is a museum. While there may be a few roof panels missing the machines themselves are kept in astonishing shape. It's a good thing too, as some of the machines they have in the collection are astonishingly rare and in breathtaking condition.
One machine poised right up in the front row, as if a crown jewel of the collection, was one of only two ever produced. A pinball mecca that has several stories of play on the inside composed of winding metal ramps mimicking a circus trapeze.
There is nothing quite like the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, let alone anywhere. With many of the large arcades in the casinos closing their doors as Vegas shifts away from the days of a family oriented town, and the new Gameworks leaving much desired, there is something that the Pinball Hall of Fame offers that nothing else can: character.