Interview: Talking Pinball At Fife Street

With the recent opening of The UK’s Largest Licensed Pinball Arcad. – held at Fife Street Sports and Social Club It’s great to see a new venue with so many pinball machines in the U.K. At Fife Street you can both play a serious amount of pinball and enjoy a drink (or two…plus!). Whilst the venue is still in its infancy, I managed to catch up with Licensee Steve Pagett (SP) and Manageress Courtney Blount (CB) to talk Arcade V Pinball, maintaining a huge collection and colour changing gin.

Fife Street Sports and Social Club - Currently the UK's Largest Pinball Arcade

Settling In at Fife Street Sports and Social Club

The grand opening of the venue was just over two weeks ago now. Is the place settling into a bit of rhythm?

CB – I think it is becoming clear that both sides of the business are going to be different at different times, which is great. The bar is primarily entertainment and football driven – so it gets a great atmosphere when the events are going on. Because the pinball is there every day, people are starting to come in just for a few games. It’s good that there is a bit of a buzz around that. 

It must be a bit of a dream still though finally being open. Has it started feeling like work at all?

SP: It is a dream. It’s been a godsend living above the place. As a non-driver, all of my previous travelling commitments were killing me (literally!).

CB – I would give up my day job tomorrow and be here full time if I could, it’s such a great environment. For me it’s been very exciting. I have run businesses before but this has been a huge learning curve. I love the social aspect and apparently the local community see me as the “Face of Fife Street“. Having the Billy Breen (Larry Grayson) historical connection is really special to both us and the community too. 

It was great to hear that Steve was still enjoying the place, it was clear that it was the right time for him to make this move, and what’s more – being a licensee seemed to be suiting him.

How does it feel seeing your name above the door Steve?

SP: Sublime.

Of course having so many machines on site (currently 45 fully operational games) was always going to raise eyebrows from the non-pinball community.

Courtney, have you had any funny reactions when people have seen the number of machines you have on site?

CB – Oh definitely, yes! Literally everyone who walks through the door is amazed at the scale of what we have done. It’s been an eye opener for the local community and well beyond. When we had the BBC in for the launch, they were surprised by the fact they are all from two personal collections. None are leased or borrowed. It’s great for us to get to share them with people and when we tell them this fact, that amazement continues, as you know having this many pinballs takes up a lot of space.

Pinball Machines V Arcade Machines – Who Wins?

With so much space to work with, Steve and Courtney have also managed to fit in some arcade games too, to give the punters variety of where to drop their coins.

So… which one is winning at the moment in popularity, pins – or arcades?

SP: There are only a few video games, but they are more approachable to the general public. We expected them to be out performing the pins and that is the case currently.

CB – House of the Dead and Outrun Twin are the best video games so far. However, we have just added Time Crisis 3 twin shooter so who knows if that’ll be the case in a couple of weeks.

With so many games, non-pinball punters have no bias when it comes to where their coins go, as they may not have the knowledge of the widely accepted (although heavily debated) “classics”, which game has been the best earner so far?

SP: Deadpool is top and the 3 modern sterns are all doing OK. ST:TNG is second but its was as serious collectors old machine – so is the dogs doo dahs., people gravitate to that. AC/DC third as the local crowd like the theme. The WPC Classic Pinball Machines – Medieval Madness, Monster Bash Cirquis Voltaire Attack From Mars Scared Stiff – they mean nothing to casual players but some regulars are warming to them . Cream always rises to the top. Pinball 2000 games are too “scary” or maybe in the wrong place.

CB – The Pin2000 ones are stuck in a dark corner because we have both and they fit there well but there’s nothing else in that corner to encourage people over. We do get a lot of requests for the classics and getting machines onto coin play has been a nightmare. 

Did that shock you?

SP: I expected theme to be most important to casual players, and that seems to be the case.

CB – I always assumed that the random public will play what flashes brightest, looks prettiest or has the best sound or is the most recognisable. 

A Little Side Discussion on Pinball 2000

Steve, I remember reading that you were at the Pin2K launch – did you expect then that the general public would be scared of it?

SP: Operators found Revenge From Mars earned well but to actually buy one to operate was 20% more expensive. So it took longer to return on that initial investment. Hardlly any Star Wars Episode 1 kits were sold so the modular system never took off . At the ATEI where Revenge From Mars was launched, four South Park pinball machines stood hardly played. They were on the Electrocoin stand but like US distributors, Gary Stern allowed a close out on price which made it 30% cheaper than Revenge From Mars, and as we know Stern are still here. Williams Bally are not. I see Revenge From Mars and Star Wars Episode 1 as novelty pins. They are better suited to seaside arcades than single sites like pubs. Other pinball machines that thrived in the past on those sites were Banzai Run, Haunted House and Hercules.

As we know – Pin2K was the start of the end, which is a shame as they were making some classics towards the end.

SP: The push for pin2k meant Williams Bally rushed out Cactus Canyon, the few that actually made it to the U.K. sat unsold. 6 months later I was offered the showroom sample for £500. I declined and it went to Germany. hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Fife Street Sports and Social Club Pinball Lineup 2 (WPC) at Currently the UK's Largest Pinball Arcade

Keeping the Pinball Line-Up Fresh and Operational

If choice is the name of the game, Fife Street Sport and Social Club certainly has that in abundance, but would that be the case in a couple of months?

Do you expect the line-up of machines to change much over the next couple of months?

SP: There is a lot of interest in the older games as they are waiting to be put on coins. Not an easy task. There are a few more pre-dot matrix games to join that group and a few newer games still to squeeze in. The stage area has more room but I’m not saying anything regarding new machines! We are going to be bringing over my bar football at the weekend as that adds something more to the mix too, it will be interesting to see how that performs.

CB – Personally I feel that over time a natural change will always happen. New ones will come in, older ones will get restored and added into the lineup etc. It’s all about keeping it fresh.

Pinball machines always need attention, even in a home use environment. What era of games has given you the most headaches in terms of repairs so far?

SP: Changing to coin play has been a slog. Apart from that its the usual stuck balls etc.

CB – Keeping on top of the repairs is a hard task, especially while we are still in our infancy. I am juggling a day job as well as managing the club and trying to fit in repairs. 4am finishes are not rare at the moment with a get up at 7 for my day job. 

Ouch Courtney – that must be tough?

CB – It is. Especially being Transgender too, the makeup and get ready time is a huge amount. The whole club is LGBT+ friendly. 

Any one game in particular that has been a nightmare?

SP: Not particularly, these games are designed to be played, We did have BTTF which has blew up. So that’s the only game that has given up in service.

It’s a Pub – So Drink and Pinball Works… Right?

What’s the most popular drink at the pub right now? How much is it?

SP: Easily Carling – at just £2.80 per pint it makes it an easy choice.

CB – Yes, Carling is deffo the most popular, but Coors Light is not at all far behind. 

Do people play the games more, or less after a couple of drinks?

SP: After I think! Luckily folks are keeping glasses off of the games.

CB – There are quite a few now who come just for the machines and as soon as they see the bar the drink comes at the same time for them. Our biggest problem is constantly running out of 50p’s!

I have had some time working in bars, pubs and clubs and know that sometimes you can get some strange requests, I wanted to find out if that was the case here.

I once worked at a pub in the centre of Norwich and someone would always order Gin and Milk, I ended up pricing it as Gin and a Splash – have you had any weird requests for drinks?

CB – Not yet. But I’m sure it will come although shimmery Palma Violets Gin and Lemonade is pretty awesome to see as it’s like a floating pearl effect, also we have a Black Country Gin that is black until you add tonic and it changes to pink.

Have you tried it?

CB – I think I have drunk more the weeks since we opened than I have in the past five years!!! You have to know what everything tastes like so you can beat explain to the customers when they ask, right? Well that’s my excuse anyway (laughs).

I know you’ve spoken about having bands on at the venue, as well as competitions too – any plans for these yet?

SP: We have had and will have ongoing LIVE music every Saturday, we are doing this on some a Friday as well. Folks need to keep watching the FB page. The first IFPA tournament will be on 7th July . I had to re-submit as it originally clashed with another event.

CB – We have had some amazing bands so far and have made Saturdays by far the most popular night, however we also have a very special Open Mic night on Tuesdays that is also streamed live to an online radio station. 

That’s pretty cool – any interesting performances you care to share?

CB – We had The Undercover Beatles which was almost a sell out in terms of space here and most of our events are free. However just as they were going to do the encore their drummer decided that a number two was more important. I ended up drumming the encore for them (laughs). A clip is on the Fife Street Social Club Facebook page if you want a good laugh. 

Drop by and have a game or two of pinball

With pinball still making it’s comeback slowly in the U.K – it’s great to hear that Steve and Courtney seem to be settling into their new venture so well. If you have managed to make it to the site, let the community know your thoughts with your comments below. From Steve, Courtney and myself, happy flipping!

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