There's no missing the pinball theme at the Craftcade Pinball Bar, which is in a former bookstore on the Near Southside. The doors are framed by a painting featuring flippers launching a pinball into action. As you walk in, you'll see — and likely hear — 18 pinball machines.
But there's more to this place than buzzers and bells — you'll just have to walk past the pinball machines to get to the bar part of the bar, featuring a bar top with pinballs embedded in it.
But the bar is where, well, the bar part comes in. Although you can order a PBR or a Lone Star if you want, the bar features a cocktail menu that's relatively large for a place this size, with nearly half a dozen whiskey drinks (including a chocolate mint julep); a similar number of gin drinks (under the heading "Gin-ny, I Got Your Number!"); a few tequila libations and rum drinks; vodka drinks (under "Vodka, the Other White Liquor"); and a few outliers such as the Craftcade Jell-o Shots that rotate ("ask your bartender for tonight's creation").
"With everything that's been going on in the service industry, and the bar scene has been growing here ... I just kinda wanted to do something super-fun," says John Cocke, the genearl manager and "head cocktail whisperer," whose background includes Fireside Pies Fort Worth. When Calvin Shelby, the bar's owner, mentioned the pinball idea to Cocke, the bartender found what he was looking for.
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Shelby is a third-generation pinball/arcade man: His father owned arcades in Northeast Tarrant County, and his grandfather owned one on Commerce Street in downtown Fort Worth. Photos of his grandfather are on the ceiling above the bar, mixed in among photos of rock stars such as Slash and Joey Ramone playing pinball, as well as photos of Al Capone and pinball-machine-smashing parties. Because once upon a time, people smashed pinball machines
"When I started into this project, I dove into the history of pinball, and it fascinated me," Cocke says. "I wasn't really privy to how crazily rebellious it was and how illegal it was at one time. The machines were made in Chicago in the '30s and they were coming out of there and people were kind of suspicious of them and thought that they were games of chance."
According to History.com, the first coin-operated machine was produced in 1931, and the flippers that are so common on modern machines didn't come along till 1947. Because players couldn't do much to manipulate the ball, the machines were considered games of chance — and actually were games of chance, because players would gamble on the games.
"churches and school boards also argued that it corrupted the morals of America’s children by encouraging them to steal coins, skip school in order to play and even go hungry by wasting their money on the frivolous pursuit," Christopher Klein writes in his History.com post.
In January 1942, less than two months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, New York banned the machines, Klein writes.
"Pinball was increasingly seen as a waste of materials — not to mention time — while America was at war," he writes. "Copper, aluminum and nickel were among the materials used to manufacture pinball machines, and LaGuardia believed it “infinitely preferable that the metal in these evil contraptions be manufactured into arms and bullets which can be used to destroy our foreign enemies.”
Much as bottles of booze were smashed during Prohibition, the machines were smashed as well. Other cities followed New York's lead in banning pinball, or prohibited children from playing it during school hours, according to Klein's post. It wasn't until the early '70s that it started becoming acceptable again.
"It has a really crazy history," Cocke says. "Think about it, growing up, if you saw '50s or '60s movies, the bad boy was always hanging out at the pinball machine."
Although pinball was legal in some cities in the early '70s, it wasn't legal again in Los Angeles till 1974, according to the History.com post. Two years later, New York overturned its ban. Although they're not usually enforced, there are still anti-pinball laws on the books in some cities. According to a McClatchy News Service story, Muncie, Indiana, officially ended a 61-year ban on the game — in 2016.
In honor of pinball's past, Cocke and Shelby plan to have a "Rebel of the Month," with a special cocktail honoring that person (among other pinball-playing celebs in the bars' photos: Bruce Springsteen, Who drummer Keith Moon, Paul Stanley of KISS and Debbie Harry of Blondie).
Craftcade is a work in progress, with machines ranging from classic (a Bally Playboy machine from 1978) to machines inspired by '90s movies and TV shows (The X-Files, South Park, The Last Action Hero). A Skee-ball game was recently added, and there are plans for a separate room called the Arcade Lounge with '80s video games.
Cocke also concocted drinks honoring pinball, including Puzzle Punch (a sangria with Tetris-shaped, fruit-infused ice cubes), as well as the recent history of the area: a daiquiri made with the rainbow-colored candy Skittles is a tribute to the Rainbow Lounge, which was in a spot just south of Craftcade till it was destroyed by a fire in 2017. And Cocke included The Last Word, a classic gin drink, on the menu in honor of The Last Word Bookstore, which lasted from May 2016 to May 2017 and preceded Craftcade in its the space.
Craftcade is open from 3 p.m. to midnight Monday-Wednesday, 3 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursday-Friday, noon-2 a.m. Saturday and noon to midnight Sunday at 615 S. Jennings Ave. in Fort Worth. For updates, follow @thecraftcade on Facebook.