The moment I stepped into Delray Beach’s Silverball Museum, a wave of nostalgia hit me. And I wasn’t alone. I turned to my friend, whom I’d convinced to drive across the state with the promise of pinball, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, and his eyes were wide.
“Tron! Centipede!” he said. “I love these games.”
Suddenly, the man I had walked in with was 12 years old.
With 88 pinball games from the 1950s to 2000s, arcade video games from the ’80s and ’90s, plus a skee-ball set built in 1954, the Silverball Museum is a ringing, clinking, jangling monument to bygone fun.
I was just getting the hang of Centipede when my friend pulled me by the hand.
“Come on,” he said. “We’ve got more to play.”
We left the ’80s video games behind in favor of pinball, working our way down the line and through the decades until we ended up at the 1990s, a time that was, arguably, the heyday of pinball machines. One of the best parts about the Silverball Museum is that visitors pay by the hour or by the day, and an entrance wristband comes with unlimited play. So, no quarters required.
We parked ourselves in front of a pair of pinball machines and stayed there easily for half an hour, clicking the flippers in rapid fire, cheering when a ball made a chaotic turn around the playfield and moaning when it slipped straight down the outlane. I’m no pinball wizard, but I played some mean machines in my day and it took just a couple of games before that old feeling returned. My friend, on the machine next to me, had sirens blaring, lights flashing and—after an especially skillful move—three balls going on the table at once.
“Check me out,” he said. He threw his shoulders into the game, moved his weight from foot to foot and laughed wickedly.
When we’d worn out our finger pads, we made another round of the floor and stopped at an arcade-style shooting game from 1971. Hologram ducks would speed across the sky, and we’d have to line up our rifles to shoot them. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t get the hang of it. My friend, however, had the knack.
“You see that?” he said. “I’m getting them on the first try.”
“Maybe my gun’s defective,” I complained, and we switched guns.
“Got that one,” my friend said. “And that one.”
I sulked. “Uh-huh.”
“Did you see that? I’m getting them all. And look,” he said, pointing to my score. “You got 600 points.”
I looked at his score. It was 5,900.
I suspect that everyone who crosses the threshold of the Silverball Museum ends up dropping a few decades. Although, to be fair, the museum attracts a range of ages. In our time there I saw a couple in their 60s playing skee-ball, a pair of teenagers on the Atari video games, and a mom with two young kids who were wild about old-school pinball. Which is to say: This arcade is for everyone, not just those approaching middle age with a hankering for times past.
Even after I’d exhausted myself on the games, my friend still hadn’t had enough. I leaned against a pinball machine and watched him play. The sounds of arcade games were everywhere, that distinct blend of bells clanging, flippers thunking, tinny background music and the pew pew pew of electronic lasers. The air smelled like chicken wings and French fries from the in-house bar and restaurant, and the atmosphere had a delightfully frantic feel. My friend looked up from the small metal ball bouncing frenetically across the table long enough to give me the widest grin I think I’ve ever seen cross his face.
“We could do this all day,” he said.
And he was right. We did.
If you go
The Silverball Museum is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. An all-day pass is $25, and afternoon and evening passes are $15 each. One-hour passes are also available for $10, but—take my word for it—an hour won’t be enough. 19 NE Third Ave., Delray Beach; (561) 266-3294; silverballmuseum.com