Fady Selim competes in the pinball tournament at the Ruckus Room on Thursday, Oct. 17. // Photo by Claire Ott
By Carl Bryden
Hidden between the bars and restaurants that litter Railroad Avenue, the Ruckus Room opens its doors to the Bellingham pinball league. Even on a cold and rainy Thursday night, the arcade is filled with people excited about pinball.
Thursday nights are league nights at the Ruckus Room. There’s an elimination style tournament that anyone is welcome to join. The tournament takes place in eight or nine rounds. Players compete to out-score each other in three turns each per game on the machine.
“Most of the players have been here for years, so we’re mostly just here to enjoy ourselves,” said Collin Topolski, one of the co-owners of the Ruckus Room.
Once you lose three matches you’re out of the tournament, but the first person out is given free ice cream as a consolation prize.
The Ruckus Room also promotes Thursday evenings as community nights. Topolski said they hope to bring people in and share the joy of pinball in this way. The atmosphere is welcoming to folks who’ve played pinball their whole lives, as well as people just hoping to check it out, Topolski said.
“The community means a lot to me, I’ve made more friends here than anywhere else in Bellingham,” Garrett Dubofsky, a third-year applied mathematics major at Western, said between games.
Dubofsky and his girlfriend Sam Kirlin, have been coming to the pinball league for the past couple years. Kirlin, also in her third year at Western, said they would have come when they first moved to Bellingham if they had known about it.
If you haven’t played before, the regulars are excited to show you the mechanics and teach you the rules of the game, Dobofsky said. If you’re just trying to reminisce about your childhood in the flashing lights of arcade machines, it’s a good place to do that too.
The Ruckus Room opened in August 2017, co-owner Emma Smith said, but the pinball league itself existed in Bellingham for the past four years. It’s looked different over time, but many of the regular pinballers have stuck around since the beginning.
The pinball league is working on outreach in the community. Last year, the league hosted ‘Pin Pals’ on Tuesday nights. A womxn and queer collective for women and members of the LGBTQ+ community to come together, play pinball and enjoy themselves.
Pin Pals isn’t going on now, but Topolski said they’re hoping to get the group going again soon.
The community has become very tight knit, while still welcoming new lovers of pinball.
The Ruckus Room also hosts tournaments for holidays and celebrations. On Valentine’s day, the league will host their split flipper tournament. Any two people can join, each person takes half of the controls for the game, and the goal is to last as long as possible in an elimination style tournament.
“The split flipper tournament can get pretty intense,” Smith said, laughing. “I think we’ve maybe broken up one couple. But they got back together.”
Pinball tournaments also take place at The Racket Bar and Pinball Lounge, Reset Games and within the community at pinballers’ houses. More information is available online at the Ruckus Room’s website.