D&D Pinball: Arcade Rebels with a Cause

November 15, 2013

by James J. Jefferies

D&D2Long before Donkey Kong kidnapped the girlfriend of a certain mustachioed plumber, or Pac-Man gobbled his first power pellet, bored adolescents and others with time to kill had a very different kind of coin-operated amusement at their disposal in the laundromats and arcades of yore. A spring-powered plunger and a flipper button on either side of the machine was all the interface one needed for an enjoyable gaming experience. Pinball is a pastime that has a history stretching back well over 250 years, and thanks to a local couple, enthusiasts throughout the Old Pueblo now have a brand-new place in Downtown Tucson to experience a vanishing retro phenomenon.

D&D Pinball is the brainchild of Gary Dillahunty and his wife, Jane Decker. Every single pinball machine in the location (currently housing thirty of them) is from their personal collection. “The more (pinball machines) we got, we almost couldn’t stop ourselves,” said Dillahunty. The idea for this spawned from a day when they realized that it was kind of a shame that they had so many machines, and not nearly enough time to play them. “It’s almost like a classic car, where you never take it out and drive it,” said Dillahunty.

At first, upon considering the idea, they were cautious, as pinball machines are easily damaged. “We’ve found we’ve had the opposite problem,” he explained. “Players will get their ball stuck, and come find one of us for help. Then we’ll nudge the ball back into play with a hard push to the side of the machine.”

D&D5While the joint sees more than its share of middle-aged players looking to relive the days of yesteryear, plenty of younger kids and college students can be seen plunking down quarters and enjoying themselves. “This place is poppin’, man,” said Stephen Hall, a 23-year old graduate student at the University of Arizona. “I’m so glad this is here!”

The level of respect that D&D patrons of all ages have for these vanishing machines is reflected back by the owners towards their hometown. “I’m a born and raised Tucsonan, and so’s my wife,” explains Dillahunty. “When we thought about where to open our place, it only made sense to come right down here to 4th Avenue. We just try to do whatever we can to support the local economy.”

The owners of D&D Pinball are so committed to the community, in fact, that once they have met their overhead costs for a given month (primarily the rent and the electric bill to keep all those machines humming), the rest goes to a different charity each month. In September, proceeds from D&D Pinball went to buy more than 1,500 meals for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.

D&D3The location itself is wonderfully retro, with the exposed brick walls and neon signs flanking one side, and custom hand-painted pinball murals on the other. “We thought it would be really cool to find a sort of old warehouse, a red brick building,” exclaimed Dillahunty. “And if it had a rolling garage door, that would be cool, and we stumbled across this place, and it was being used for storage!”

Beyond the visual appeal of the place, the entire atmosphere buzzes with the sounds of clattering flippers, metal balls colliding against bumpers, and the infinite variety of voice samples and bits of musical score from games such as The Twilight Zone, Medieval Madness, and Captain Fantastic, which features a vintage incarnation of Elton John sporting a vicious pair of gleaming white bell-bottoms. Of course, no arcade worth its salt would be complete without a change AND a soda machine. Every element you can think of that should be here…is here.

D&D Pinball is a perfect symbol of the new Downtown Tucson spirit, a fusion of respect for our shared past, a love of community, a pinch of entrepreneurship, and a belief that if you build it, they will come. D&D Pinball is open Friday through Sunday, with hours varying from month to month, and is located at 331 E. Seventh Street. For more details, please visit their website or their Facebook page.