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“Greatest waiting room in Short North,” Pinball league gets new, cheesy home

J.R. McMillan

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There’s still something rebellious about that little silver ball.

Just ask John Geiger, founder of Arcade Super Awesome, whose pinball obsession heralded a local revival of the once-contraband contraptions. Historically maligned by moral crusaders as another form of gambling, even outlawed in some cities during the Prohibition Era, the recent rise of so-called “barcades” is an apropos postscript for the birthplace of the temperance movement.

“I grew up in the arcades in Cleveland playing video games, but pinball was spotty. In the small towns outside of Cleveland, pinball was still illegal into the 90s,” Geiger recalled. “So I never really played pinball as a kid. But when I came to OSU, it was all over campus. That’s when I got the bug.”

An avid collector of classic and contemporary arcade games, the pivot to pinball inspired League Super Awesome, a weekly competition attracting world-class talent, now celebrating its 15th season and a new home at Melt Bar & Grilled in the Short North.

“Even going back to the early 90s, there were a lot of tournaments in Columbus. There’s an organization called the IFPA, the International Flipper Pinball Association, which is our governing body. If you look at the player numbers in Columbus, which indicate when you joined, you’ll find player numbers in the teens and 20s,” he explained. “My number is more than 20,000. That’s how long and how popular competitive pinball has been here.”

Much as disco begat breakdancing and video games supplanted pinball, console games nearly killed coin-ops altogether. But the social component they never replaced has been recently rediscovered by players looking for something Sony and Microsoft don’t sell.

“Pinball is more fascinating to me as a machine. The play is more complex and there’s that factor of randomness,” he revealed. “With arcade games there are patterns that repeat, but pinball has elements of skill and chance. It’s never the same game twice.”

Rube Goldberg would revel in the modern pinball movement, the clever combination of lights and kinetics elevated into a performance art exhibition open to anyone with a spare quarter.

“I’m very particular about curating games together by depth, style, theme, or era. There’s an order everyone doesn’t always see. It’s like a gallery and the placement of the paintings that only makes sense when you see them all together,” he explained. “You can have a collection of things, or you can have a gallery. But it wasn’t an arcade until I opened up my warehouse and people came to play.”

Photo by Hillary Jones

Geiger has been colonizing ever since with enclaves of pinball machines and arcade games throughout Columbus. But, the decision to wind down his space above Yellow Brick Pizza in Olde Towne East, followed days later by the surprise closure of Four String’s westside brewery and Grandview taproom left casual patrons and competitive players nervous about what was next.

“People contacted me worried about where we’d land. It was entirely unexpected, hearing how much they appreciated this community we built,” Geiger recalled. “But I also got a call from Don Johnson, who is kind of my counterpart in Cleveland, organizing league play and the pinball and arcade convention up there. He connected me with Matt Fish, the owner of Melt, and it was a perfect fit.”

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There are lots of stories about how surprisingly small Columbus can be, and this is one of them. Geiger and Fish quickly figured out they both used to be in bands together in Cleveland decades ago. Never the same band, but definitely the same scene. And over the course of my own conversation with Geiger, we discovered the offices of our respective tech startups were right across the hall from each other nearly as long ago in the old Weisheimer Mill that was the birthplace of Arcade Super Awesome.

“Pinball really fit our punk rock brand,” explained Fish, whose burgeoning Ohio-born empire of grilled cheese eateries first expanded into the Columbus market in 2013. “Last year, Don approached us about putting pinball in a couple of locations in Cleveland in some of our unused space and hosting league play. Now we’re part of that community in Columbus.”

The ample waiting area created for Melt’s robust opening crowds received a retrofit. New electrical lines were required to provide sufficient power for more than a dozen games, with plenty of room left for league nights that often attract enough players from around the state to rival the number of restaurant patrons.

“League Super Awesome brings in players from all over Ohio. I’ve seen the same players from Columbus competing in Cleveland the following week,” Fish noted. “Between Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati, we have one of the largest pinball communities in the country. Most people don’t know Ohio has the highest number of ranked pinball players in the world.”

League play at the Short North location is every Thursday with monthly tournaments. Like any league sport, the minutiae of matches and eliminations may be intimidating to the uninitiated, but the play itself shouldn’t be.

“With pinball, gender doesn’t matter. Skill level does,” explained Fish. “The women’s tournament creates an opportunity for new players to learn from more experienced players in a comfortable environment that encourages entry into a male-dominated sport. But everyone is welcome for league nights and all-player tournaments.”

Though only a month in, the partnership already shows signs of cross-pollination—with more pinball players introduced to Melt, and restaurant-goers equally intrigued by the arcade. (It also doesn’t hurt to have Killer Queen, the beloved 10-player platform game, attracting its own cult following back to the hive.)

“When you walk by Melt and see these glowing pinball machines in there—not just one or two, but a whole room of pinball—you want to come in and check it out,” noted Fish. “It’s the greatest waiting room in the Short North.”

For details on League Super Awesome, visit arcadesuperawesome.com. For more on Melt Bar & Grilled, visit meltbarandgrilled.com.

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Weekend Lookout: Harvest Fair, brewery parties, socccer

Mitch Hooper

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Welcome back to another installment of The Weekend Lookout, my fellow weekend warriors. As we get through the last few weekdays and gear up for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, here are the happenings and events that are worth checking out before heading out. Hang in there, ya'll! The weekend is almost here.

Saturday

Land-Grant 5th Anniversary Party @ Land-Grant Brewing Co.

Happy five years, Land-Grant! To celebrate the occasion, Land-Grant will be hosting a variety of musical acts such as Hebdo and Zoo Trippin'. Chow down on some Ray Ray's barbecue, watch the Buckeyes kick off in the evening, and of course, drink all the Land-Grant brews you can.

Harvest Fair @ The Columbus Commons

Looking to get your fall on without leaving the city? Look no further. Head over to the Commons on Saturday for the free-to-attend Harvest Fest complete with fall-themed activities for all ages. Additionally, there will be a pumpkin patch with a $2 entry fee.

Talk It Out: Endless Summer Fest @ Misfit Manor

This indie music festival will feature the likes of many local acts including Girl Fox and snarls. The day kicks off at 4:07 p.m. sharp, so don't be late!

Sunday

Olde Towne East Pop-up Market on Bryden Rd.

On Bryden Rd. on Sunday, 40 different vendors will line-up for a pop-up market in OTE. Everything from matcha from Potion Matcha to lunch from Street Thyme Food Truck will be available for visitors, and it's free-to-attend.

Columbus Crew v. Philadelphia Union @ Mapfre Stadium

Not only is our faithful Crew taking on Philadelphia this Sunday, Troubled Sapiens will be performing before and during the match! The first performance will be in the parking lot from 3:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the final performance will take place at halftime in the stadium.

FBCC Presents: Movie Night + Beer Tasting @ Grandview Drafthouse and Theater

In collaboration with Fat Babes Club of Columbus, Grandview Drafthouse and Theater will play host to a beer tasting and movie night. Here visitors will sip craft beer, wine, and ciders as they watch comedy clips of "fat" performers throughout time. The day kicks off at 2 p.m., but FBCC recommends showing up 15-20 minutes early.

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The Weekend Lookout: 9 different ways to spend your weekend in the city

Mitch Hooper

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Summer is fleeting, but luckily fall is on the way. We are entering that Goldie Locks zone of weather which means it's the perfect time to get up, and get out. From a big music jamboree with Doc Robinson on Saturday to Tyler, The Creator stopping off at Express Live, here are the events and happenings to keep on your radar.

Saturday

Doc Robinson's Family Jamboree @ Woodlands Tavern

If you trust our taste with The Turbos, then having you trust us once more with Doc Robinson shouldn't be a stretch. Here's a little taste of what Doc Robinson will bring to the stage on Saturday. The Family Jamboree kicks off at 11 a.m. on Saturday and will include a large roster of local acts including Parker Louis and Hebdo.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4QdxpbrZgg

German Village Oktoberfest @ Wunderbar

You already know the drill here: fill your steins full of Great Lakes Brewing beers, chow down on German classics from places like Pierogi Mountain, and don't even worry about the cover charge because this is a free-to-attend event.

Can Release: Opera Cream Stout @ Platform Beer Co.

New beer, who dis? Platform Beer Co. is breaking out a new can this Saturday at the taproom where they collaborated with The BonBonerie for this Opera Cream Stout. Platform will have beers ready for purchase around 10 a.m. so come early, and come thirsty.

Sunday

Kölsch In The [email protected] Gemüt Biergarten

It's a beer release party in the Garten! Gemüt Biergarten is breaking out its newest brew Huginn & Muninn Kölsch from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. for just $3 in the Garten. Gemüt describes this beer as a light-bodied German ale that is malt-forward with a slightly fruity flavor.

Tyler, The Creator @ Express Live

Tyler, The Creator has been on a new level in terms of music popularity. His albums Igor and Flower Boy have received plenty of critical acclaim, and his unique sound landed him as the artist who created the soundtrack to the newest iteration of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. The often off-the-walls rapper will be taking over Express Live on Sunday evening with doors opening at 5:30 p.m.

It: Chapter 2 and Hustlers @ South Drive-in

Going to a drive-in to see an It movie, ah. It feels like the good old days again. Was I around for those days? Maybe not, but the nostalgic vibes still stand. Head over to the South Drive-in for a double feature of the newest It: Chapter 2 as well as Hustlers. Everything kicks off around 7:15 p.m., and the Drive-in suggests showing up an hour early to be safe.

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A Day In Delaware: Horse racing, kayaking, food trucks, cocktails

Mitch Hooper

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It's horse racing season in Delaware at the Little Brown Jug and that means two things: you're either about to lose, or currently losing.

The beloved horse racing at Little Brown Jug, affectionately known as LBJ, kicked off on Sunday and will run until Thursday. If you're looking to get in on the action, here is where you can buy tickets.

But, if you've already spent all your gambling money and just need a break from the horses, there are plenty of alternatives available in Delaware. Here are three spots to keep in mind as you explore our not-so-distant neighbor to the north.

Kayaking at Alum Creek

Whether you hit it big on your bet, or lost it all in the first race, Alum Creek is perfect because it's free. While the views on the walking trails are great, the views from a kayak are even better. The water there is very calm with the exception of a boat passing through every once in a while making it a nice spot for beginners.

And if you're a veteran on the water, the lake is relatively large meaning you can make an entire day out of it. I recommend packing a cooler with some picnic food—peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, string cheese with crackers, and some fresh fruit—and making pit stops at some of the beaches right off the lake. And, just so I can say I told you so, leave your phone in the car, or in a water proof bag.

Dinner At The Food Truck Depot

The Food Truck Depot is a relatively new eatery and bar in Delaware and it's sure to have something for everyone. If you, or someone you're with, is a vegetarian/vegan, Encompass Eatery is a familiar face at the Food Truck Depot and they offer plant-based dishes such as a grilled caprese sandwich, or straight up carnivorous sandwiches like the hearty roast beef sandwich. Other food trucks that have made appearances include Tortilla, Red Door BBQ, and Deja Food. Also at the Food Truck Depot is a full service bar with craft selections and cocktails as well as a large sand volleyball court if you need to burn some calories.

Drinks On Sandusky St.

Delaware is absolutely loaded with options when it comes to drinking in the evening. Looking to taste some bourbon and whiskey? Check out Opa Grill And Tavern which boasts the largest bourbon selection in Ohio. Or perhaps you're more of a beer person (you are from Columbus after all). Barley Hopsters is a beer lovers heaven as it offers large coolers stocked with local, regional, and national craft beers. Build a six-pack to take home, or sip on your beer of choice while you ponder your next option.

Not too far from Barley Hopsters is Restoration Brew Worx which offers a variety of their in-house brews. And if you're looking for an elevated cocktail, 1808 American Bistro is on 29 E. Winter St—just a stone's throw away from Sandusky St. On the flip side, if you're just looking for a dive bar to call home for the evening, The Backstretch will have you covered with cans of PBRs and Tullamore Dew.

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