December 11, 2016 12:48AM
By Catherine Hewitt
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — With lights flashing and electronic sounds zinging and pinging, pinball machines are making a comeback in a modern new bar downtown.
Flipside, at 1 Railroad Ave., is the brainchild of Dana and Mark Carvey, of North Stonington, a married couple whose venture combines her restaurant experience with his pinball obsession.
“It all stemmed from pinball being a hobby all the way back from childhood into college and then one day I realized I could buy one and put one in my house, about five years ago,” said Mark Carvey, 36. “And once that happened it was like a bug, one turned into two, two turned into four… it’s up to somewhere around 30.”
The Carveys’ bar opened on Nov. 18 and sports nine different pinball machines that can be played by individuals or groups. “That’s always the way I’ve played pinball — playing together with friends, and it is more of a social thing than playing video games,” said Mark. “You start a four player game, so you each play a game and see who comes out on top.”
“You’ll have people come in and start on separate machines and then teach them that they can play on the same machine and compete until everyone is standing around hooting and hollering over everyone’s scores — it’s creates a really fun environment,” said Dana.
With its exposed brick and sleek lighting, and with a wall of windows overlooking the Westerly train station, Flipside will not bring back memories of arcades stuffed with video games.
“We not going for the arcade vibe — we wanted to build a nice place that you’d want to hang out in but with pinball machines for entertainment,” Mark said. “I’d say we’re averaging about 40 years old for our customers, — that was the goal.”
“We want to attract women and baby boomers,” Dana said. “If the college kids want to get into it, I’m all for it, but it was designed for a more mature crowd.”
Statistically, pinball is experiencing a quiet revival, especially with leagues and tournaments that offer cash prizes up to $15,000.
“There are 44,000 ranked, registered players internationally,” Mark said. “In the last few years, you’ve seen the numbers double if not more — it’s exponential growth.”
Besides Flipside, Mark also operates a competitive pinball enterprise called The Sanctum in Meriden, Conn.
“It’s not a business, and it’s not a bar, it’s really a social club and it’s only open on Monday nights, it’s in a warehouse and I run it with four other guys — it’s sort of a co-op,” he said.
The couple continues to collect pinball machines dating from 1970s to the present.
“They can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to five figures — these all tend to be in the $2,000 to $5,000 range,” Mark said, pointing to the machines near the bar. “There’s also a thriving collector market out there.”
At their bar, Dana’s favorite machine is “Bride of Pinbot,” which she has tattooed on her upper left arm. Mark’s favorite is called Scared Stiff because “it’s got a monster theme and Elvira and lots of humor,” he said.
The bar, which has a full liquor license, relies on Dana’s years of restaurant experience and she plans to focus on local vendors.
“We’re trying to keep as much money local as possible, from Rhode Island and New England,” she said. “Our goal is to have the biggest can list in town, so we have over 32 unique cans and five taps and always at least one from Rhode Island or the Northeast.”
Except for snacks like peanuts and cashews, no food is offered but customers can bring their own.
“We do not mind “BYOF” — people want to bring in a pizza, that’s fine,” Mark said.
Stay tuned because Flipside will have a bar league on Tuesday nights and a women’s league on Thursday nights — dates to be announced.
“Overall we’re just trying to grow the pinball community and to contribute to Westerly,” Dana said. “We love Westerly, we like the community here and want to be part of it.”
Flipside is open to people age 21 and over. Hours are 4 p.m. to midnight on weekdays, and noon to midnight on weekends. It’s closed on Mondays. For more information, go to http://flipsidepinball.bar.