It's hard not to get caught up
in the flashing lights and celebratory sound effects that make D&D Pinball, located on Seventh Street just east of North Fourth Avenue at 331 E. 7th St., a living, breathing kaleidoscope built into a converted garage. And judging from his energetic, enthusiastic demeanor, the same could be said for the arcade's co-owner Robert Noble.
"It's got a big, open atmosphere like the arcades I used to hang out in on the Jersey Shore," Noble says about the environment he's created with his partner Constance Negley. "The tourist communities have arcades on the boardwalks and they'll open their garage doors and let people come in and play during the summertime, so we love that we can throw our garage door open and this place has this great, open, friendly, welcoming atmosphere."
The couple bought D&D several months ago from original owners Jane Decker and Gary Dillahunty, who Noble says hadn't planned on running the business permanently, an act that he and Negley were thrilled to do themselves.
"Right now we have about 30 machines," Noble explains. "Most of them were already here when we bought the place. We did add some of our own and we've upgraded some of our existing machines as well. We do some custom modifications, especially in the lighting, LED lighting. The right kind of lighting can make the whole game a lot more exciting to play."
D&D Pinball is open every week from Thursday through Sunday, though Negley and Noble, a former machinist, are usually at the arcade when it's closed "fixing, tuning and cleaning pinball machines," he says.
"On a Friday or Saturday," however, "things will be fairly busy. We'll get a nice crowd when we first open and then there's a little quiet dinner lull. Come 7 or 8:00, we're packed it in here with sometimes 40 or 50 people and it gets very loud in here because all the machines are screaming in competition with each other. We have a good core of regular people who show up almost every day, and then a group of people who show up once a week or once every couple of weeks. People bring their families--we love players of all ages and we especially love seeing young people, kids, playing pinball for the first time. A lot of the have never seen a pinball machine before and they come in here, and here's 30 of them! Video games can be the same every time you play it but pinball is different every single time because it's not programmed--part of it is chance but a lot of it is skill. But you don't have to be a highly experienced player to have a good time because if you get on a machine and hit a few jackpots it can be very exciting. Even people who aren't great players can have a great time here because there's a machine here for everyone. We've got machines from the last four decades, so whether you like the old, electro-mechanical machine or the new, high-tech digital machines, we've got a great variety and everyone can find something they can amuse themselves with.
"We have a couple of video game consoles and each of them plays a multitude of great classic games from the '80s. We're happy we brought them in because people want to play them. It's a part of a lot of people's childhoods and even their adulthoods.
In addition to being among the Southwest's largest pinball arcades, shamed only by the enormous Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas, D&D hosts private parties and monthly tournaments.
"We have tournaments every third Wednesday of each month and it's IFPA-sanctioned," Noble says. "People will just come down and have a great time playing pinball. It's a very friendly, non-competitive atmosphere and the serious players can accumulate points towards going to divisional championships at the end of the year, which is usually in Las Vegas. It's a $20 fee to register and we provide snacks and beverages. There's 10-20 machines operating on free play, so you don't have to put in any quarters, which is why there's a fee. If you want to meet pinball people and talk about pinball, this is the place to be. A lot of enthusiasts come just so they can to talk to people about pinball. This place has very much become a pinball hub."
More than anything else, he says, D&D Pinball is about a positive experience for everyone.
"We love seeing people come in and have a great time. That's why this place was started. Our friends had a collection of pinball machines and they decided they wanted to share that collection so they opened this place up thinking it would be temporary but Constance and I were able to make it a permanent part of Fourth Avenue so pinball preservation in Tucson can endure."