The signature song of The Who’s rock opera, “Tommy,” is “Pinball Wizard,” and people from all over the world practice their various levels of wizardry at a business on Hopkins Avenue called the Pinball Palace.
The pinball machine, in which players score by using flippers to guide steel balls into holes as bells ding, has not followed the buggy whip into oblivion even though it’s 90 years old. As electronic games have morphed into higher-tech versions, so has pinball.
While retaining its steel balls and flippers, designers have added more sound and brilliantly lit themed displays. In addition to the usual sound effects, the machines talk to the player sometimes in deep-throated menace.
Kelley and Karen Daniel own and operate the Pinball Palace, a former children’s castle-themed party venue that they converted into a game center for all ages. It started when Kelley saw an ad for an old Pac-Man machine.
“I said, ‘This is cool,’” he recalls, so he bought it for the nostalgia. “Then, I figured it’d be impressive to have your own pinball machine.”
He bought his first and hasn’t looked back. The Pinball Palace has 88 of the 150 pinball machines he owns along with 44 arcade games, Foosball, air hockey, and a bounce house to provide fun for the kids whose parents are playing pinball.
The Daniels promise the Pinball Palace is family-friendly, and it must be given that Alexis Gazaway was playing with her 8-month old daughter, Everlee, riding comfortably in a carrier on her back.
“I just started today,” she says. “I think I’ve got a new obsession. It’s strategic. I like strategic.”
The wide-eyed Everlee also seemed obsessed by the lights and sounds.
The days of feeding quarters into a slot to release a few balls for a game are over. Pinball Palace charges $10 an hour, $15 for two hours and $25 for a day-long pass.
Gazaway was there with her mother, Karen Snyder, and her mother’s boyfriend, Jason Davis, who were visiting from the Atlanta area.
“He hunts pinball,” Snyder says of Davis. “We go to Tennessee and other states, and he hunts pinball. I’m just pretending to play. He’s good.”
They swapped machines frequently and Davis jokes, “She’s getting all my points.”
Kelley Daniel said he gets out-of-town business on stormy days when people can’t go to the beach and are looking for something to do. They learn about Pinball Palace from the rack cards he has at hotels and visitor centers. And sometimes he gets players with bad cases of sunburn.
The beach wasn’t the draw for Michael Jarrard from Ackworth, who had taken two days off from work.
“I came down here just to play,” he says. “I wanted to come to one of the best pinball locations in the country.”
The place is clean, the people are nice, and Daniel has a lot of limited edition machines with vividly colored dot matrix displays, Jarrard says. “Plus, everything is in good shape,” he adds.
It’s in good shape because Daniel does his own repairs, sometimes with the help of a friend, and has since he went into business four years ago.
“When I started I didn’t even own a soldering gun,” he says of the tool for connecting wires to electronic parts.
In one room, he has bins of replacement parts, flippers, flipper assemblies, electronic coils, transistors, and more.
“Fuses blow a lot,” he says.
But he doesn’t have to repair them on the floor. If it’s bad enough, he moves them out and fills the gap with a working machine from the others he has in storage at the former party shop across Hopkins, which was built as a Burger King.
“I don’t like to see anything down,” he says.
The party shop and castle party venue were part of a sort of compound that started with Rent All of Glynn, which he formerly managed until he bought the business.
Daniel owns about 150 pinball machines, most of them with themes such as the Addams Family, The Mandolorian, Kiss, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Medieval Madness, Deadpool, Stranger Things, and on and on.
His oldest machine is a restored 1974 Bally Delta Queen Machine that older people play for the bells and old-fashioned spring loaded plunger.
“It was at the skating rink for years, but it never worked,” Daniel says. “I paid $100 for it. He knew I’d take care of it.”
Myra Eades and her 18-year-old son, Jacob, were playing nearby.
“His birthday was in May. We spent the entire day here,” she says.
Jacob started playing at the Pinball Castle in 2018 and comes as often as he can.
Daniel’s pinball history goes back longer. In high school in the 1980s, he collected bottles, turned them in for the deposit for money to play pinball.
Not all of his machines are in Pinball Palace or in storage. He has four at home, and when he talks about getting more Karen Daniel notes they once had two garages full.
“We’re not starting this again,” she says.
There are other places to play such as arcades, but few have the collection that the Daniels have.
As they prepared to close, Karen Daniel began sanitizing the machines by wiping them down. As she cleaned the Led Zeppelin machine, it asks, “Are you ready to start the show?”