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Old 10-13-2018, 09:40 PM
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10-13-2018 08:35 AM
In December 2017 London’s first and, so far, only pinball club opened its doors to its members and to the public.

The Flip Out London logoThe opening of Flip Out London was the culmination of many months of planning and preparation, including cleaning, decorating, repairing and installing machines and equipment.

The premises which were to become the club’s home started out as a storage building rented by Matt Vince for his London Pinball operation, which hires and sells pinballs across the south-east of England. But Matt had dreams of establishing a dedicated pinball club with a large collection of machines where casual play could be combined with leagues, tournaments, parties and even corporate events.

Matt wasn’t alone in having that dream, and soon found another nine like-minded pinball fans and collectors. Together these ten founding members took up their paintbrushes, mops and cleaning cloths to turn the dusty storage room into an attractive, welcoming facility. [Disclaimer: the author is one of those ten founding members]

In came machines from the founders and other collectors willing to offer their top-quality games for the club’s members and public visitors to enjoy, and pretty soon there were thirty pinballs set up, ranging from electro-mechanicals to the newest DMD and LCD titles. Some basic decisions were made, such as the club’s name and then its logo. Fibre internet was installed, as were security systems and cameras, and then the club’s website, e-mail and Facebook page were set up.

The desk at the entrance to the clubThree machines next to the entranceThe view of the main room from the entranceThe front row as you enter the clubThe front row machinesPart of the row on the left side of the main roomSome interesting solid-state titles alongside an EM Spin-a-CardMore older titlesSome classic solid-state gamesSome of the older titles in the side roomMore of the older titlesA row of Williams/Bally titlesMore of the Williams/Bally dot-matrix titlesThe building is on a light-industrial park in Croydon, south London. It’s not the kind of location people would stumble upon and the exterior isn’t the most attractive either, but with rents in London being hugely-expensive it’s an affordable building with good facilities and an understanding landlord. Plus, the warm welcome from the hosts and other members seems to more-than make up for any trepidation visitors might initially have.

Matt and Stan welcome you to Flip Out LondonThere is a well-equipped large kitchen in the main building for event organisers and members to use, but the new space added a more accessible kitchen area for guests to make drinks or reheat food. Flip Out London doesn’t currently have a permanent catering or alcohol licence, so no hot food or beer can be sold at present. However, pre-packaged snacks and soft drinks are available, while guests can bring their own or get take-away deliveries made to the premises. A selection of menus is available from companies delivering in the area. Recent investigations have shown how getting a temporary licence for events such as tournaments or parties could possibly be achieved reasonably easily, so that is an area the club’s committee is looking into.

With the first anniversary of Flip Out London’s opening coming up, it’s a good time to look back at the achievements and the ongoing challenges of running a club.

In the months immediately after the opening, the decor was improved further as was the lighting to give a warmer, more relaxing atmosphere. Playfields, backglasses and translites were mounted on the walls along with a noticeboard, with more posters and banners still to come.

Playfields, backglasses and translites adorn the wallsThe club noticeboard promoting upcoming events, merchandise for sale and local food outletsA 20 per month standard membership was started which allows free entry to all club openings, discounts on tournament entries and other benefits such as member-only events and discounted merchandise. Entry fees at the door from non-members transitioned from a basic cash box to a dedicated till, and now to electronic credit card payment.

The club recently expanded by renting another, adjacent part of the same building which allowed the creation of a ‘Stern’ room with more machines – taking the total to around fifty – and enabled the chill-out zone to move to a quieter, more secluded area.

The Stern room at the back of the buildingThe Stern rowA guest kitchen and dining area has also been added next to the chill-out zone.

The guest kitchenThe chill-out zone complete with magazines, DVDs andYou can play other games tooMen’s and women’s toiletsSeveral tournaments have been held at the club as have editions of the UK Pinball League, with more tournaments planned. A month-long league has been set up which takes place every Thursday night along with a high score competition, and regular openings at weekends has also been added.

Matt Vince enters scores for the weekly leagueChecking the league scores and rankingsAll events and opening times are shown on the calendar on the front page of the Flip Out London website. Every opening is hosted on a volunteer basis by one of the founding members. All members – founding or regular – get free entry, while non-members pay a flat 10 per visit entry fee. All machines are at the club set on free play.

All the machines are on free play and donated by private collectorsThe Special When Lit pinball club in Salisbury proved how having a permanent collection of quality machines set up for regular events and one-off tournaments was a huge bonus when compared to setting everything up just for a single event before having to tear it all down again. The challenge was finding a suitable building in an accessible London location which was still affordable once you added on the extra costs of things such as insurance, electricity, security systems and heating. Having a wide range of different skills, contacts and know-how from the ten founding members and multiple well-wishers helped get things achieved quickly too.

It was surprising how willing collectors were to donate their machines to the club; not beaten-up semi-functional ones, but beautifully restored and brand-new ones.

A prototype three-disc Pirates of the Caribbean is available to playAlien LE is also here to playIn fact, there are many more available to the club than there is space to host them. Machines are regularly bought and sold, while others go out on location or return from being operated. So, while the number available remains fairly constant, the actual mix of machines changes frequently.

But with all those machines comes the biggest on-going challenge of any collection – maintenance.

Flip Out London does have a dedicated maintenance area with a decent selection of spares and tools, but having the time and people able to fix machines as the issues develop is certainly problematic. As the number of machines increases so does the length of the repair list, but moves are underway to schedule regular repair sessions and to pay repairers to come in and fix any outstanding machine issues.

Word soon spread about the club. The website, e-mail address and Facebook page all get regular messages asking to hire the venue for private parties or corporate events – the most recent of which was just last week – while Flip Out London was represented at the recent Play Expo event in London, which brought in more contacts, enquiries and additional memberships.

It’s been an exciting first year. Pinball News visited last night for the regular Thursday night league and high score tournament, and the atmosphere was both welcoming and relaxed. There was a great positivity about the place, which is fitting considering how just twelve months ago none of this existed.

See the Flip Out London website for details of opening days and times, a map of the location and contact methods, how to subscribe to the newsletter, as well as a list of machines, upcoming tournaments and leagues, and private-hire information.

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