Pinball wizard flips to victory
When Tony Ruben joined Orlando's first pinball league this past summer, it never occurred to him that he might emerge as one of its champions. Yet, on Tuesday, Sept. 8 the Longwood resident found himself in vigorous play for a trophy at Oviedo's new Pinball Lounge. Ruben emerged victorious after a head-to-head play-off match for second place (first place went to Pinball Lounge co-owner, Kurt van Zyl).
"I never imagined I would even place when I joined the pinball league." Ruben noted, "I guess all those quarters spent in my youth paid off."
Ruben grew up playing pinball in local arcades in his hometown of Chicago. "I have fond memories of playing pinball with my dad on Sunday afternoons. I courted my wife while playing pinball at the University of Illinois. Pinball is included in our family lore, as our son ended up being prepped for his bris on our home pinball machine," he said.
Ruben finds himself in good company with other Jewish pinball aficionados and entrepreneurs. According to the Jewish Play Project (Jewishplayproject.com), The Gottlieb Pinball Company was founded by Jewish pinball pioneer David Gottlieb in the late 1920s, and produced the first coin-operated game several years later. Stern Pinball's founder Sam Stern (and father of current CEO and chairman Gary Stern) was also a pioneer of modern pinball. Currently, Jewish-owned Stern Pinball is the only American producer of pinball machines.
For the past two decades Ruben has played pinball sporadically, as local arcades have come and gone over the years. The financial executive and business consultant first heard about the Pinball Lounge from a story on NPR, and was excited to learn that pinball had come to Orlando. He noted, "The Pinball Lounge opened on May 16, and was greeted with the sort of press usually reserved for a new ride at Disney or Universal. I spent many of my allowances in my youth playing the silver ball, and had to see the Pinball Lounge for myself."
The Pinball Lounge can be found tucked away inside the back entrance of the Oviedo Bowling Center, with more than 14 pinball machines, ranging from the classic 1980's games like "Eight Ball Deluxe" to more recent games like "Kiss" and "South Park" gracing the bar turned pinball arcade. Ruben said that the games are in "good-to-great condition," and small game problems (like sticking flippers) are quickly remedied. He was pleasantly surprised that the prices were a throwback, much like some of the original games, with the older games only costing a quarter, and the most recent games cost only $1. He said two hours of fun costs less than $10.
According to van Zyl, The Pinball Lounge was created so pinball fans like Tony Ruben would have a place to play the silver ball. Currently, The Pinball Lounge has more machines available for public play than anywhere else in Orlando. He stated, "We were excited to have a player that was new to the pinball community come out of nowhere and excel in the league. We are always interested in developing new players for location pinball."
On Nov. 8, the Pinball Lounge is reaching out to new pinball fans and players in attendance at the Jewish Pavilion's "A Taste in the Park" held at the Maitland Civic Center-Venue on the Lake. Van Zyl stated, "We are always looking for more players. We are bringing a couple of machines to the event where guests can play and get a taste of what happens at The Pinball Lounge."
Van Zyl said that he and co-owner Ed Klamp are happy to give back to the community, and look forward to holding fundraising events for the Special Olympics and Project Pinball sometime in the near future.
For more information or to register for the Jewish Pavilion's "A Taste in the Park" on Sunday Nov. 8 from noon-3 p.m. at the Maitland Civic Center-Venue on the Lake, visit https://thepavilion.webconnex.com/taste2015 or call 407-678-9363.