Pinball seems to be everywhere. In any given bar, movie theater lobby or arcade, you can find the games. However, Flip Side in Westerly caters exclusively to pinball players, and holds tournaments in a competitive twist on ’80s-era nostalgia.
Walking into Flip Side, you are immediately confronted with an array of pinball machines devoted to pop culture favorites. From Star Wars to “The Walking Dead” to “The Sopranos,” you’re bound to find a game that suits you. A vintage jukebox lives in the corner of the bar, featuring real vinyl 45s. It’s a delightful throwback to yesteryear, and brings in a crowd of all different types.
The women’s pinball tournament is a big selling point of the bar. Each week, the league of pinball enthusiasts, known as the Double Danger Dames, go head-to-head, competing to get the high score of the week. The league attracts a varied crowd — some play pinball as a tribute to their childhoods, while others are fresh-faced pinball newbies. One of the former was Justine Buck, whose love of pinball began when she was a teenager in the ’80s.
“Pinball has a special appeal because it’s kind of a physical game,” Buck says. “As you play, you get to learn how you can aim your shot. And then once you get familiar with different machines, you know what to aim for.”
The tournament usually begins with open play, where people have the opportunity to score as many points as possible to make it to a later round. There are head-to-head matches as well, where one can directly compete against another player.
Another selling point is the camaraderie of the sport. Women from all backgrounds come together and are ultimately there to meet like-minded people.
“Especially at the beginning of the tournament, you’re meeting all kinds of people, very often from out of town,” Buck goes on to say. “And everybody’s just kind of into pinball. That’s why you’re there, so you instantly have something in common.”
Another player, Kerry Holmes, expressed a similar sentiment. One of the younger members of the league, Holmes has loved pinball since her childhood, when she played the older pinball computer games. She brought her love to the league, and now finds both fun and friendships as a result of the game.
“It’s funny because I always see a different kind of group in here,” she says. “It’s really cool seeing all of the different generations coming together … everyone’s willing to teach you.”
In addition to the women’s league, there is a co-ed league, so anyone can give the game a shot. That league is run by Mark Carvey, one of the founders of the bar. The other founder, his wife Dana Carvey, is in charge of the women’s league. I talked to her about the origins of the tournament, as well as her personal goals within it.
“You show up, get placed into groups of three or four players, and you play a total of four machines each week,” Carvey explains. “Scores are tallied for eight weeks. The top score player for each week wins a prize. Your best five weeks count toward your final score. The top eight players move onto the finals, which is held in week nine.”
“My goal for the league is to bring players together who identify as women and foster friendships with them in a fun, slightly competitive environment. We also want to teach pinball skills, techniques and gameplay to help the players become better at pinball in general.”
The bar opened in November 2016, with the two leagues beginning the following January. The husband and wife duo have been pinball fans since they first met in 2011, and along with the bartenders and regulars, continue to practice their craft together.
“Overall, it’s extremely rewarding to grow the pinball community right in our hometown as we’ve spent the past six years playing pinball in so many other places,” Carvey concluded. “We finally have a place of our own.”
The Double Danger Dames have games every Thursday night at 7:30pm at Flip Side (1 Railroad Ave, Westerly), while the co-ed league, Westerly Pinball League, runs on Tuesday nights at 7:30pm. There are no dues or fees, so anyone who wants to be a part of the sport can join in.