FIVE & DIME

Five & Dime in the west downtown Evanston area is a brand-spanking new combination restaurant, bar and entertainment center on Davis Street, just steps from both the Metra Rail and the CTA Purple Line.

Five & Dime’s rooftop dining and game room is one of the newest places in the northern Chicagoland suburbs that has pinball machines.

A panorama photo of the neo-industrial 'inside' seating
A panorama photo of the neo-industrial ‘inside’ seating

Outside seating has picnic tables and round wire mesh tables that are cozy for four.

All the pinballs at Five & Dime are in very good condition, fully functioning with CLEAN playfields.

Radical! (Bally) is set to 50 cents for one play, 75 cents for two plays, and I felt that the free game threshold was quite achievable by someone with average playing skills.

Bally's Radical!
Bally’s Radical!

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends (Data East) is also in excellent shape and plays well. $1/1 play or $2/3 plays; bills only.

Data East's The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends
Data East’s The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends

Kiss Premium (Stern) is also set to $1/1 and $2/3 plays. It is a bit more challenging than the other two, but very playable.

Stern's Kiss Premium
Stern’s Kiss Premium

If you want a break from pinball (say what??), Five & Dime has other games for you to enjoy on the rooftop area: Jumbo Connect 4, Ping Pong, Foosball, Baggo/Bags/Cornhole and Jumbo Jenga.

The menu at Five & Dime appears to be somewhat of a work-in-progress with a relatively small number of items. In spite of that we both were able to find food items that we wanted to try. I got the impression that when the affiliate businesses Lulu’s Dim Sum and Then Sum and Diablo Taco are relaunched (in the same building, on the first floor) that the menu for Five & Dime will change. We feel that the biggest value on the menu is the chips and guacamole.

The service is somewhat of a work-in-progress too – not horrible by any means, but not yet as polished and effortless as places that have been in business for many years. I have faith that given a few more weeks they will be up-to-speed. The key thing is that the servers and hostesses seemed to have a friendly and outgoing attitude which is certainly pleasant to see.

Since this is primarily a drinking establishment, I feel a few words about the drinks menu are in order. The OG Margarita is delicious (it’s hard to drink only one), the Negroni Frozen Slushy is well regarded but usually not available until a couple hours after opening time; apparently the slushy machine needs to be primed or something. The Five & Dime beer list includes Evanston’s Sketchbook Brewery’s Et Tu Yuzu citrus spiked sasion, in addition to the usual suspects in bottles and cans.

One interesting thing that I was glad to see is pre-teen young people playing the pinballs. One boy I talked to had no idea that there was a way for more than one person to play the same machine. Aside from that, it was nice to see kids clutching a Ziploc bag of change waiting to play.

Some of the ‘kids’ at Five & Dime had unusual playing styles as shown by this photo.

Playing Kiss
Playing Kiss

I would say that Five & Dime is a great new addition to the pinball scene in the Northern Chicago ‘burbs. It most likely will only get better as time goes on.

BREWDOG SHEPHERD’S BUSH

Brewdog, Shepherd's Bush

BrewDog is a Scottish craft beer brewery with an ever-expanding estate of their self-branded bars. At the time of writing, they have twenty-eight bars in the UK and sixteen internationally, including places such as Barcelona, Brussels, Helsinki, Hong Kong and São Paulo.

Each bar sticks to the same winning formula of largely BrewDog-brewed beers, with a mix of interesting guest beers.

The Shepherd’s Bush branch opened three years ago and is located close to the Goldhawk Road tube station, a short walk from Shepherd’s Bush Market.

Brewdog Shepherd's Bush
Brewdog Shepherd’s Bush
The front of the bar
The front of the bar

Inside, the bar is spacious and trendy, with mood lighting and a large bar lined with beer taps.

The interior of BrewDog Shepherd's Bush
The interior of BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush
Plenty of tables and seating
Plenty of tables and seating
The bar
The bar

The beers on offer are shown on large illuminated boards behind the bar. One shows BrewDog’s own standard selection while the other lists their prototype and experimental beers and the guest beers. All beers are priced around the £5 ($6.66/€5.97) mark, whether that is for a full pint, or a two-thirds, half or third of a pint for stronger brews.

Be aware though, they are not big on non-beer drinks. You might get a couple of different wines, and a boutique cola or two, but beer is what BrewDog is all about.

One of the beer lists
One of the beer lists

A limited food menu is also available. We have tried the pizzas and the chicken wings on previous visits and they were very tasty indeed and come recommended.

However, much as we love the beer and the food, we were here this time for the pinball, and BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush has four machines located at the back of the bar.

The four pinballs
The four pinballs

When we arrived, the machines were just being swapped over by the operator. A Simpsons Pinball Party and a Getaway were leaving, to be replaced by a Congo and a Fish Tales. They joined the existing AC/DC Premium and the UK-made Full Throttle.

Full Throttle at BrewDog
Full Throttle at BrewDog

All games are priced at £1 ($1.33/€1.20) per game or 3 games for £2, which seems to be standard London pricing. The games are visited by the operator frequently and any problems quickly fixed. While we were there, ColorDMD screens were being installed in AC/DC and Fish Tales.

Nearby seating is available
Nearby seating is available

The selection changes approximately every three months which coincides with the start of the next season of the London Pinball Selfie League which operates here and at the Four Quarters in Peckham. On certain League event days, additional machines are brought in and a fixed entry fee gets you unlimited games.

The BrewDog management and staff are very supportive of the pinballs, providing vouchers as prizes for the League and joining in the fun on event days.

In fact it’s not at all uncommon for UK BrewDog bars to feature pinball machines – something we obviously applaud – but we also wondered why this was.

So we spoke to BrewDog and they told us, “BrewDog bars allow us to put all the things we love in one place and pinball is one of them. Customers love getting their retro gaming heads on and we’re glad that people recognise our bars as a place to do this. Americana is a theme that lends itself to BrewDog and the beer we make as we take a lot of influence from the incredibly inspiring American beer scene. In keeping with this, the traditional pinball arcade fits right in. Our customers (and staff) love the pinball machines, and we love to expand our collection when new bars open.

With the recent closure of The Pipeline bar, West London’s BrewDog Shepherd’s Bush is now the bar with the most pinballs in the capital (although nearby Chief Coffee has more pinballs). There may only be four of them, but it’s a great mix of pinball, beer and food, and – even better – it’s on our way home from work.

A final couple of words about the beer.

US readers will be pleased to know BrewDog are soon to open their US brewery and distribution centre in Columbus, OH. Also, the Shepherd’s Bush branch is one of only three BrewDog bars which has a Crowler canning facility, meaning you can take away any of their beers in a special 950ml can, which they fill and seal for you.

We’re enjoying this lovely Electric India saison as we write this review (which might explain any spelling mistakes).

Review fuel
Review fuel

More details about this branch of BrewDog can be found on their website, while the London Pinball Selfie League’s Facebook page has details of how to play and submit your scores.

FLEX

Flex in Munich, Germany

Flex is a bar and music club founded more than twenty years ago in the Civic Centre of Munich.

The Flex
Flex

It is located in the basement of an apartment block in a street with mostly residential properties, approximately a ten-minute walk from the Thersienwiese where the Octoberfest takes place every year.

Flex is very special compared to other bars. It has a rather worn-out furniture, stickers and inscriptions everywhere, and some parts of the installation look really rubbish.

Inside Flex
Inside Flex

But this is also the special charm of it, and it attracts visitors of all ages and from all social classes. You can see students celebrating their birthdays, as well as a businessman coming to drink a beer and play some pinball, pool or foosball, or a local guy living next door just drinking his evening beer.

The bar at Flex
The bar at Flex

The prices are quite reasonable compared to other Munich pubs. The music is often a bit louder than in other bars and some days the tracks are chosen by a DJ sitting at the mixing desk.

The Bar owner is named Olaf and he’s a very nice guy. The same applies to his whole crew which does a great job.

Since its opening in the mid ’90s, Flex has had space for arcade games and traditionally hosted two pinball machines besides darts, pool and three foosball tables.

Games at Flex
Games at Flex

A few years ago the pinball machines (Elvis and Ripleys) were in very poor condition, so via a friend we contacted the owner and took over the pinball operation. Since then we have tried to keep the games at Flex in very good shape, doing frequent checks and cleans.

The Addams Family, Roadshow and Metallica
The Addams Family, Roadshow and Metallica

A few weeks ago the number of games was increased to three, as can be seen in the pictures of an Addams Family, a Roadshow and an almost new Metallica Pro.

As far as I know it is the only commercial location in Munich area where more than one pinball machine is operated.

Foosball and pinball tables
Foosball and pinball tables

I still remember a famous match on my 52nd birthday where Zac Sharpe and my friend Klaus battled to be the evening’s champion – each of them winning a game.

A small tournament is organised here once a year, typically around mid-summer. So if you happen to be staying in Munich for a business trip, vacation or Octoberfest, stop by and play some games while drinking an Augustiner beer at Flex.

Inside Flex
Inside Flex

(PS. Flex is a famous maker of angle-grinders and THE name used for these tools in Germany.)

You can get more details of Flex on their website or Facebook page.

NEO COCKTAIL CLUB

Playboy at the Neo Cocktail Club

In early 2016 I located a pub in Hong Kong called Neo Cocktail Club which I learned probably had a Bally Playboy pinball. Unfortunately I also found that it was temporarily closed.

Eventually it re-opened in mid-June this year, and so on the last Saturday in June I went there on my own as their first guest of the evening.

Neo Cocktail Club
Neo Cocktail Club

The first thing to grab my attention was the Bally Playboy pinball in the middle of the club.

Bally's Playboy
Bally’s Playboy

It was a pleasant surprise to find that it was set to free play.  The mechanical condition of the game was excellent but unfortunately it had no sound, so this severely degraded my overall enjoyment of the game. I guess that it is only its sound card which has a problem and it would not be too difficult to fix it. (^o^)/

Playboy plays well, but in silence
Playboy plays well, but in silence

As usual, snacks are free during the happy hour which runs from 6-8pm every business day.

Like the pinball, the snacks are free
Like the pinball, the snacks are free

I finished my drinks and snack dinner there and left around 8pm. I will definitely go there again very soon (^o^)

Here’s some additional information about Neo Cocktail Club:

  • Business hours: Mon-Sat 6pm-1am
  • Website: https://www.facebook.com/NEOcocktailclub/
  • Comments: Apart from having no sound, the mechanical condition of pinball was excellent
  • Remarks: Free snacks during happy hour