Take a gander at the picture of the pinball machine. I loved Eight Ball Deluxe. Walking into a bar, ordering a beer and cashing a few dollars for quarters was a thrill that is now just a memory. You can still play pool in a tavern, but very few have pinball.
I was good, shaking the machine just enough to keep the ball alive and avoid tilting. Sure, there were other people who played better, but on any given night I could rattle the machine, while my beer sat on the little table or nearby shelf waiting for me to lose the ball so it could resume it’s intended duty.
One of my favorite watering holes was Town Hall, just outside the University of Maryland campus. I worked at the school, and after my shift was over, a few of us would stop at the bar, walk through the smashed peanut shells on the floor, scuttle up to the bartender, order a beer, purchase quarters and begin the journey into Pinball Heaven.
Town Hall has been open since 1960. That’s quite an accomplishment for a drinking spot. Those that come and go are usually “theme” bars catering to whatever fad or style is temporarily occupying the minds of its semi-loyal patrons. Dance clubs seem to last the least amount of time, usually laid waste by fights, drug busts, marriage, and the quick aging and waning interest of its clients. But Town Hall has lasted through student migrations, sporting event-driven traffic, all the recessions and economically challenging occurrences during the six decades of its life, and the probable deaths of several of its clientele who just didn’t outlive the joint.
I don’t imagine there was a secret plan scripted by the owners. They just offered cheap beer, a liquor store next door, free peanuts, pinball, pool, Slim Jims, pickled eggs, bags of chips and party mix, standard bar food, those red sausages in the big jar that I only had the nerve to eat once, and an unpretentious atmosphere. It worked.
Despite being within 200 yards of University of Maryland’s main entrance, Town Hall caters to locals. Students really only go there after a football game, basketball game or any other event that brings with it doting parents and seekers of learning, spilling out to quench their thirst after a couple of hours of cheering and jeering; much to the chagrin of the regulars who adjust to the noise, silliness and immature behavior of the privileged bunch who have just invaded their space. It only lasts a short while until the nerds and their entourage decide to shove off for haute cuisine, laced with over-priced, but oh-so-pretty beverages. Once the children are gone, the Slim Jims and suds taste better.
People reading this outside the College Park area most likely are unaware of Town Hall. Some may have stopped by when following their team to Chevy Chase Bank Field at Byrd Stadium (God, that sounds awful), Cole Field House or Comcast Center. If so, you probably didn’t even notice the regulars smoking their butts (when it was legal) and drinking their draft, while arguing Redskins football or some other non-college thing. Don’t worry, they ignored you, too.
For me, it’s now nostalgia. Occasionally I was in the neighborhood on business, but beer, pool and peanuts are not on the agenda. When home, I play pinball on my computer, shaking the machine with keystrokes. Diet soda in a can or plastic bottle is my “draft.”
Bake My Fish