Pinball Passion Comes to Life in N.Y.
Five Guys Join to Open Rochester Pinball Collective
by Matt Harding
Bruce Nightingale’s earliest pinball memories go back to the late 1970s at The Barn Original, a restaurant with a pinball machine. It’s where his parents met and where he recalled himself at age 7 playing the game Eight Ball (Bally, 1977). Funny enough, today he’s a technician like his father was and recently worked on a couple of Eight Ball machines.
Nightingale bought his first pinball in 1984. Bally’s 1979 game KISS would be one of hundreds the collector would purchase over the years. He’d end up with too many in his basement, sell some off and start the process over again.
Not just a collector and technician, he’s also pretty good at the game, bagging quite a few top three tournament finishes. As of publication, his world ranking according to the International Flipper Pinball Assn. is 1,026th.
Combine collecting machines with fixing them up and getting behind the flippers…and then add in a longtime dream.
“I always wanted to own a bar,” Nightingale explained, so with the 40 machines sitting in his basement, he started Silverball Saloon in 2017. That business was going wonderfully until Covid-19 hit and everything came to a screeching halt.
Once it was clear that Silverball Saloon wasn’t coming back, a group of customers got together and started to push for a new venture. He and four Silverball patrons – all home collectors themselves – started to talk about the idea of Rochester Pinball Collective in September 2020.
They wanted to keep pinball alive in East Rochester, New York. So the five guys pooled their resources and personal collections to form the new business.
“Right when we opened, the masks came off in New York State,” Nightingale remarked of their June 4, 2021, opening. Even with a slowdown during the Omicron wave, each month has been profitable since their debut.
The pinball arcade has 45-50 machines dating from the 1950s to the newest releases. The oldest is Straight Shooter (Gottlieb, 1959). There are machines on the floor from every decade since then as well.
Some of the newest games include limited-edition versions of Rush (Stern, 2022), Godzilla (Stern, 2021), The Mandalorian (Stern, 2021) and Guns N’ Roses (Jersey Jack, 2020).
“Most of the new Stern games are very popular, especially Godzilla,” he said. “It’s such a great game by Keith (Elwin). Titles do grab people.” A couple of Nightingale’s personal favorites in the Collective’s arcade are Cheetah and Star Gazer (both Stern, 1980). “I’m a big classic Stern guy.”
Unlike his Silverball Saloon, all games are set to unlimited free play. Rochester Pinball Collective charges a $20 entry fee. Non-alcoholic drinks are available and annual memberships are $595. They also host parties and tournaments.
The business has 2,800 sq. ft. of arcade space and an additional 1,300 sq. ft. in the back for parts and maintenance. About 10% of the business is repairs, which get fixed up in that extra space. Nightingale has been repairing games since the ’90s.
They mainly do playfield swaps and basic maintenance but also take care of acid damage, CPU issues and pretty much anything else you can think of. He’s always been interested in making games the best they can be.
Back in the arcade, the Rochester Pinball Collective has been swapping out a couple of games a month or so – sometimes as many as eight machines. “We’re always trying to rotate through based on what customers ask for,” he said.
They also have a good community of 20-25 players who compete in regular tournaments. They come in from across the region.
“They know our games are good playing with no issues,” Nightingale said. “It makes people want to drive that extra distance.”
To see a full list of games and get other information about the Rochester Pinball Collective, visit www.rochesterpinball.com.