Posted On: 08/01/2012
Orbit Pinball Lounge
7401 Hazel Ave., Maplewood, 314.769.9954
There’s a certain kind of twisted satisfaction to be found in the strict entry policy at Orbit Pinball Lounge, the swanky new Maplewood arcade that forbids minors. So, to all those under 21 clamoring for a seat inside, let me be the first to offer a Nelson Muntz-esque, “ha, ha!” Maybe we’ll see you at happy hour in a few years, junior.
The History: Still a newbie to the St. Louis social scene, the lounge (which hung up its shingle this May) has yet to be entirely swamped by the crowd of regular neighborhood bar-hoppers. Set away from the nearby Manchester strip, down the more subdued side street of Sutton Boulevard, Orbit has taken the commercial space formerly occupied by several never-done-well coffee shops. The spot was eagerly snatched up by Michael Stivers, a former bartender at Herbie’s in the West End, who wanted to provide Maplewood with an after-hours arcade stocked with vintage toys and reinforced with quality booze. After a string of delays over naming disputes and legal/coding issues, Orbit’s doors have finally burst open. The games have begun.
The Décor: Not what you’d expect. People throw that term around a lot, but it’s especially true here. Upon hearing that you’re going to a bar dedicated to pinball and Skee-Ball, it’s hard to block out grungy images of fantastically seedy venues. Orbit couldn’t be more of the opposite. Rather, the space is sharp, minimalist, almost polished. The pressed-tin ceiling and dark-wood interior throws off a classic barroom feel. High-end lanterns hanging over the main bar fire streams of light across the space, lighting up in alternating colors and gently flashing as if the entire bar was the inside of a pinball machine itself. The front room is lined with a number of booths with tabletops smartly constructed from old pinball machines. There is ample seating throughout, but the action is in the backroom, which holds 10 or so weathered pinball machines from the 1990s – The Simpsons, Starship Troopers, Judge Dredd and (my personal favorite) Tales From the Crypt – along with three Skee-Ball lanes, each just 25 cents a game.
The Scene: What you’d expect. During the week, a neighborhood crowd shuffles in and grabs a few cocktails and maybe a few games. Hipsters, disillusioned grad students, struggling tattoo artists all vie for a spot at the lounge, while weekends pack in more of the young, Midtown, urban professional crowd and some spillover from nearby bars. Orbit caters mainly to 20- and 30-somethings, both singles and groups of friends. The atmosphere is extreme casual, and dress is denim and T-shirts. No smoking.
The Booze: Nothing to gripe about but not much to praise, either. The staff mixes strong, classic cocktails from a shelf of nominal favorites. Specialty cocktails were entirely absent on my visits but no doubt on the way. No draft selection yet, either, only bottles: A-B products, Heineken, Stag, PBR, New Belgium’s 1554, O’Fallon’s 5-Day IPA and a number of Schlafly’s. Likewise, there is a short list of wines by the glass starting at $6.50 ($6 during happy hour). As Orbit’s management is apparently keen on offering locally based products, hopefully they will expand the beer menu to include a few more members of our burgeoning craft beer scene (i.e. Civil Life, Cathedral Square, Urban Chestnut).
The Verdict: After a few visits, it’s safe to say that this is one playhouse that was worth the wait. With an interior almost too gorgeous for a pinball joint, Orbit seems to be a lounge first and an arcade second. But Stivers is doing well to focus on the basics and set up Skee-Ball leagues to ensure return action as well as continued exposure. Will Orbit stand the test of time? I’d have to say yes. A cold cocktail in hand, a backroom chock-full of toys, a great atmosphere and pockets full of quarters. Game on.
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