Any day or night of the week, you will find Tacoma residents gathering to drink, talk and play at the Triple Knock pinball bar on Sixth Avenue, but seeing dozens of people hanging out at a pinball bar would’ve been impossible to even imagine a couple of years ago, as pinball might have been seen as a thing of the past, a relic in the era of more modern video games.

But the flashing lights and electronic sounds of pinball were everywhere just a few decades ago. Whether you were going to a restaurant, bar or movie theater, it was almost impossible to avoid the formerly ubiquitous machines.

Triple Knock Tacoma
Locals enjoy drinks, pinball and social interaction indoors on a rainy afternoon. Photo credit: Ily Goyanes

With improvements in technology and the increasing popularity of computer and video games as a result of those improvements, the sweet sounds of pinball became radio silence—until now that is. Pinball has made a comeback and you may be surprised at the likely reason why.

Experts and local pinball aficionados alike theorize that video games, the very culprit often blamed for almost eliminating pinball from popular culture, seem to also be responsible for bringing it back.

Erin Shadensack, who has worked at the Triple Knock pinball bar since it opened in July 2016, says that video games are isolationist, but pinball is communal.

“For those of us who grew up on computer games, the next step to get out was pinball. It was a way for us to be social,” she explains. “With pinball, you can socialize but still have an activity to engage in.”

If the 21 and over crowd at Triple Knock on a Saturday afternoon is any indication, socialization does seem to play a major role in pinball’s increasing appeal among people who missed the game’s first wave of popularity. People talk, laugh and sip on beers as they take turns pushing buttons to save that little silver ball.

Benji Villahermosa
Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and World Cup are Benji Villahermosa’s favorite machines to play. Photo credit: Ily Goyanes

One of those people, Benji Villahermosa, 28, thinks that at Triple Knock in particular, there are even more reasons for people to get excited about pinball. The Tacoma resident and Triple Knock regular says that the bar “is a safe place; no one judges.” He continues after a brief pause: “Everyone loves everyone, regardless of sex, gender, race, sexual orientation. We really talk to each other; we open up.”

This sense of community is expressed by other regulars as well, and by Erin, who we find out is not only an employee, but a total pinball fanatic.

“Pinball is my life,” she says in total seriousness, explaining how pinball made her move from Kansas to Washington much easier. “I was new to the area and pinball was a great way to meet people,” she explains.

Erin, and Triple Knock’s manager Albert Klym, agree about the impact that pinball in general, and Triple Knock specifically, has had on the city of Tacoma.

“Tacoma is developing its own identity,” says Erin. “Since we opened up, we’re helping establish that identity.”

Tacoma pinball bar
Erin Shadensack is passionate about pinball. Photo credit: Ily Goyanes

Albert adds that promotions such as industry night, where anyone who works at a bar or restaurant gets special deals, and happy hour, which is from 7:00 p.m. until close (usually 2:00 a.m.) also promote unity.

He and Erin also mention how Triple Knock’s pinball tournaments – such as team play, women’s tournaments and split flipping tournaments, in which two people play at the same exact time by each operating one of the flippers – are attracting locals and bringing people together.

Tournaments are mostly held on Wednesdays and Sundays and usually require a $5 entry fee. All the entrance fee money goes to the top players.

Check Triple Knock’s Facebook page for the most up to date information on tournaments and other promotions. Triple Knock is located at 2713 6th Avenue in Tacoma. You can also learn more by calling 253-503-0982.

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