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Ducks in a Row

Ducks in a Row

Kevin J. Elliott

“Retro” is a term overused.

Given the cultural zeitgeist and the rapid recycle of style that still feels like only yesterday, the ’90s are now considered “retro.” The same winsome memories are attached with equal aplomb towards Nirvana and NickToons, The Chronic and Cross Colors, “Enter Sandman” and MC Hammer. The lines in the rearview mirror are blurred.

Troy Allen bends the idea of “retro” at his will. His Rise Brands is in the business of creating experiences. 16-Bit Bar + Arcade has been a demographic bulls eye, tapping directly into an ’80s ephemera that is fondly remembered. The lights, the sounds, the aesthetic of an old-school arcade refined with sleek design and booze—it’s a hyper-nostalgia that conceptually only needs a Joust machine and a good beer to succeed. Just look at the glut of the arcades popping up all over town. But what of an era barely remembered? To wit, there is little reminiscing for a youth spent at the duckpin bowling alley.

Duckpin bowling, though, is at the center of Pins Mechanical Co., the latest Rise concept and 13,000-square-foot adult playground that practically begs for a cell-phone depository before passing through its doors. Add in 40 primed pinball machines, ping-pong, shuffleboard, giant Jenga, foosball, and Pins demands digital capitulation. The downtown space at 141 N Fourth St.—the bones of which were once Columbus’ Yellow Taxi garage—encourages a new social order, in which Instagrammable moments are secondary to friendly competition and analog conversation.

“There’s Punch Bowl Social in Cleveland and there’s even a shuffleboard club in Brooklyn, which is crazy that shuffleboard is trendy,” says Allen of the draw to this project. “We knew we didn’t want to do traditional bowling because you can do that anywhere in Columbus. With the duckpin bowling though, we think it’s homier and the atmosphere here has a more industrial feel to it, and it’s so much more accessible.”

Indeed duckpin bowling has all of the trappings of classic bowling, but without the shoes, the holes, or the learning curve. At Pins, spectators can lounge between the lanes or on vintage couches as players roll strikes without having to set down their drinks. The scoreboards spout witty euphemisms at competitors. You get three rolls, with balls that are slightly larger than a softball, instead of two. Again, it’s nostalgia refined.

It’s the space itself though that steals the show. With steel cages and exposed brick, Pins gives off a vibe that recalls a forgotten Coney Island boardwalk arcade, a gritty pinball palace, and your favorite basement rec-room.

Of course, the accoutrements of a trendy bar are in place, but it’s also flanked by two massive patios that expose more “green space” than concrete. Pins will be a permanent home for the Por’Ketta food truck, with additional room for two more rotating trucks on any given night.

It’s not a place to just stop in for a drink. That thinking is futile, as you’re bound to spend a few hours taking it all in. And as far as keeping such a mechanically dependent operation in working order, where once Allen and Rise have had to farm out work to freelancers, they’ve recently developed their own in-house team of technicians to tend to those dilemmas. The punny refrain that Allen has all of his ducks in a row is an understatement.

“I think we do a really good job of fully immersing people in an experience,” says Allen of the formula. “It’s the music, the games, the visual cues that take you back to when you were a kid—or in my case when I would ride my bike to Dairy Mart to play Kung-Fu Master. We wanted to create something in Columbus that hasn’t been here in quite a while. We don’t need to do a lot of advertising because our customers are our advocates and spread the word about their experience here.”

Whether you regard the concept of Pins Mechanical Co. as unique or simply an amalgamation of childhood memories come to life—Allen even promised tetherball and four-square in the future—there’s no denying that the fun factor involved is on full tilt.

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