A girl with a camo hat and septum piercing heaves a load of brights into a washer, then slouches through the speakeasy door at the back. It’s League Night at Sunshine Laundromat, the pinball arcade, bar, and, yes, fully-functional laundromat in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The cavernous, wood-paneled back bar area is crowded with dozens of people and pinball machines. The games are beautiful, and each one seems brand new, regardless of whether they’re three or 30 years old. They’re collected, curated, and maintained by Sunshine owner Peter Rose, who is, in a word, obsessive.
“I had three of these here before,” Rose says, caressing a museum-quality “Theatre of Magic” pinball machine. “The first one was good. The next one was great. The one after it was exceptional. But then this one came along, and I was like, ‘This is in unbelievable condition.’” Someone else might hoard this “Theatre of Magic” away, safe from jostling elbows and spilled beers, but Rose’s mission is to let the masses experience pinball perfection.
If you’re used to beater machines with scuffed playfields, burned-out lights, and sticky flippers, Sunshine is a revelation. “I want to have the best,” says Rose. “I want this to be a reflection of myself and the things that bring me happiness.” Front-and-center is “Big Bang Bar,” a prototype Capcom made just before they quit the pinball business. It’s not a great game, but it’s the collector’s piece to end all others. “So few people have even seen this. There are, to my knowledge, three of them available to the public in the world. It so doesn’t belong in a laundromat, so let’s put it in a laundromat.”
“Big Bang Bar” is a rare curiosity, but the ethic that drives most of Rose’s collecting is primarily what he finds most playable and fun. The bar is dominated by crowd-pleasing classics: “Medieval Madness,” “The Addams Family,” “Black Knight 2000.” These are games with easily understandable rules, charming themes and effects, and, while challenging, they’re not unfair. If you practice them, you’ll get good, and you’ll know exactly why you’re getting good. If they ever break down — each machine has hundreds of moving parts — Rose is on the spot, ready to get the games up and running again.
“All of the problems are so well known at this point,” he says. “It takes just a few seconds to figure out what it is, run downstairs” — to Sunshine’s basement workshop — “grab the parts, and take care of it.” Rose is a hands-on owner, and that’s evident in the unique, custom flourishes everywhere you look. Dog paintings by his mother adorn the walls; the door that stands between the laundromat and the bar is made from two repurposed dryer doors; an “Area 51” arcade game is customized to run inside of a dryer, the appliance’s buttons hot-wired to serve as arcade controls. It’s like a child’s fabulous dream come to life. Rose says, “I heard, ‘It’ll never work’ numerous times, including from the landlord. And my response was, Don’t worry, I guarantee you’ll get your rent.’”
So far, Rose has been able to pay the rent, and Sunshine’s legion of fans hope this continues for years to come. I’ll definitely be contributing my share, three quarters at a time.
Tony Carnevale is a senior writer for Studio@Gawker.
Photos by Jake Inferrera.