There’s something visceral about standing over a pinball machine, hands on the flipper buttons, watching and listening as bumpers clang and kickers pop. Opening a rather hulking physical space to pay homage to the silver ball, Steve Webb’s Powerhouse Pinball Club allows members to pit themselves against an ever-rotating selection of superbly maintained pinball machines — new and vintage — while respecting social distancing protocols.
The games hold a certain appeal to enthusiasts, but the room itself, the cavernous Powerhouse building at the northernmost finger of Store Street, is as much of an attraction — a vast brick shrine to the city’s industrial past.
Webb moved Metropol industries into the 30,000-square-foot former BC Hydro steam-generating plant, leasing it from developer Chris Le Fevre, who spent several million dollars remediating the 1892 heritage building with its signature brick smokestack.
The pandemic caused Webb to shutter his Quazar’s Arcade in Trounce Alley (he’s since reopened offering group rentals) and left him with Western Canada’s largest collection of unplugged pinball machines.
“COVID-19 hit and we were poised for a massive summer. Players started sending me emails, calling me and saying, ‘We just want to come in and play for a couple of minutes, please.’ ” After setting a few up in the enormous room, he stood back and thought, Why don’t we just do it here?”
It was those people, says Webb — a community of diehard pinball fans — that powered up Powerhouse.
The heavy industrial zoning of Powerhouse meant Webb couldn’t just open the doors for anyone to drop in and play, but he could sell private memberships — and beer.
At time of press, the Powerhouse Pinball Club boasts more than 300 members and counting. Membership is $10 a year, and the games are open for play on weekends only.