Eau Claire Gets Nudged

by Ian Jacoby |

Hey, Eau Claire.

You probably don’t remember me, but I’m one of the guys who used to write for Volume One 10 years ago when it was way less professional. Well, Nick was professional, but the rest of us were varying levels of “child.” That was part of the fun! Long story short: Volume One grew up and became a pillar of the community. Me? I got really, really into pinball. Like, too into it.

Consequently, I started a pinball magazine called Nudge. Check it out: nudgepinball.com. Better yet, Google us — that’s great for our website traffic. The gist of the site is that we treat pinball the way magazines like Thrasher or Big Brother treated skateboarding: mostly-off-topic and pretty crass. There are only three rules we have at Nudge.

  1. Pinball is for EVERYONE.
  2. Everything is kinda pointless anyway, so why not have fun?
  3. Be funny and mean.

So imagine my surprise when my phone rang. For the purposes of this story, let’s say it’s the most beat-up iPhone of all time. Like really not in good shape at all. It’s sitting on a table that looks like something out of a Hunter S. Thompson story but replace 90% of the drugs with antacid tablets. I groggily answer the phone. It’s 7pm.

“Ian, we need you,” Volume One says. “We need boots on the ground to get the down and dirty about what’s actually happening with Eau Claire Pinball.”

“I’m getting too old for this sh--,” I say.

“Nope, can’t say that anymore,” Volume One says. “We’re a family publication now. Like all of us have a ton of kids now except for you.”

“I was just going to say: I’m getting too old for this … nonsense,” I say. I put a cold steak on my black eye. “But I’m in. One last ride, but you have to let me promote my website, nudgepinball.com a bunch. That’s N-U-D-G --”

“We get it,” Volume One says.

So here we are. One last ride for the Jacoby kid. Alright Eau Claire, buckle in for the rock ’n’ roll pinball ride of your life. The kind of ride where we say ’n’ instead of using the word “and.” Because it’s really that informal of a ride.

Anyway, I turned this town upside down and shook it to see what kinda pinball would fall out. Here’s what fell out.

Where do pinball machines come from?

Before we begin, maybe this will be useful to folks who don’t know a ton about pinball. Let’s say you’re out at a bar or restaurant and you play a pinball table. Maybe that’s not your jam. Instead, you play a game on a dartboard, a pool table, or one of those video gambling machines — and you think, this rules.

I wish I had one of these in my house for my friends and me to go nuts on a couple of times a week. You research how much they cost and realize that these are expensive pieces of equipment. Even a dartboard is going to run you a minimum of 3K in most situations.

Restaurants and bars don’t like to shoulder that cost either. Usually, that means they lease that space to operators who provide those games to them in exchange for whatever they make while on location. In Eau Claire, by far the biggest operator is Donivan’s Vending Service. They’re like the Tony Soprano of pinball in Eau Claire (without the mob connections). If you see a pinball table out in the wild in the Chippewa Valley — chances are it came from Donivan’s.

In the few places where that isn’t true, we’ve noted it in parenthesis next to the name of the location. Donivan’s if you’re reading this: thank you, you’re doing God’s work. We appreciate you. Now, please update the code on your machines.

This story took us into the very BOWELS of Eau Claire, and like regular bowels that means it was a twisty ride. There’s no rhyme or reason to the order of these, but just sit back and let the prose wash over you. There you go, that’s better.


(A-1 Vending)

Clancy’s is the best Irish tropical bar of all time. How they came to that aesthetic, we may never know. That said, the bartenders are nice, the drink pours are generous, and the pinball machine is *chef’s kiss*.

Clancy’s features a Stranger Things pinball machine prominently along their back wall. The condition of the game is phenomenal, and James Spexet, owner and operator of A-1 Vending is quick to fix any problems with the game.

No really, there was a finicky opto on this game that made the Demogorgon shot impossible — and not only had James already diagnosed the problem by the time I met him at 10am on a random Tuesday, but he also fixed it in less than a week. That’s like lightning speed when it comes to pinball repair.

The downside? If you have kids, this probably isn’t the place to bring them. I mean, it’s a bar. That said, if you’re of age, want to burn through an afternoon on one of the most generous pinball machines in the area (5 balls for a dollar!), and don’t get too scared of Demogorgons then this is your spot.

It’s quickly become No. 1 in my rotation. Also, Tom, the owner is really a good guy. He tried to connect me with a legendary Eau Claire pinball player named ZIM who I’m actually convinced only exists in legend.




...but if you’re ever in need of food – you’re right downtown. I mean, c’mon get creative. Go have a hoagie. Whatever.

Eau Claire Games & Arcade

Eau Claire Games and Arcade is a service to the community. It’s the one place on here that’s specifically geared towards having kids learn pinball — which I think is rad. The good news? It seems like folks are really into it. The day I was there, they were prepping for a 60-person party.

While it seems like parties have become a bigger and bigger part of their business, the truly unique part of EC Games and Arcades is that they use an all-you-can-play model. Depending on the day (slightly more expensive on weekends, but an incredible $8 deal on weekdays), you can pay a man named Cheese less than $10 and play pinball until your eyeballs dry up and fall out. Sign me up!

Run by local entrepreneur and educator Tim Sexton and his partner, Ben Granger, this place isn’t just great for playing pins, it’s a great spot to learn too. Tim is extremely giving of his time, and basically runs the whole operation as a way to showcase games (that they sell) while also giving back to the community. Plus they sell Airheads there, which I was pumped about. I haven’t eaten those things since like 1995 at Moulton’s Skate America.

This is also the place that has THE BEST selection of pinball by far. Since these games are all for sale, the lineup changes frequently. The good news? Granger is a whiz fixing pinball machines. While I was there he walked me through some repairs he was doing on a great looking Theater of Magic pin.

These are folks who love pinball and it shows in their shop. I wish I could say more great things about them, but I’m running out of space, so I’ll just say this: Go there. Please. This place needs to stay running for as long as possible. Please.


A full set of pinball tables that are constantly changing, an entire arcade, plus air hockey.


Think about the arcades of your youth. Now fill them full of action figures and other cool nostalgic stuff, now blast some sick tunes. That’s the vibe. I took off a star because I don’t like kids, but for most people, this will actually be a selling point.


They have the arcade classics, which means heavy doses of sugar. I’m cool with it, but eventually I wanted to buy a hot dog somewhere.

Fox Run

For years I thought of Fox Run as the place that my disappointed Seymour T-ball coaches went to after I delivered another 0-3 performance at the plate. Turns out, no! There’s actually a lot of other great stuff there. Fox Run is way out in the town of Seymour.

Everyone there is extremely friendly. It’s the kinda spot where people call you “hun” a lot. I love that. It makes me wish I owned a cowboy hat, just so I could tip it politely when I lay a tip down. There was a birthday party going on when I was there and the folks throwing it basically adopted me into their family. Shout out to my new aunt, Denise!

In maybe the most thematically appropriate pairing ever, Fox Run has an amazing Munsters machine. It’s creepy, it’s kooky — no wait, that was The Addams Family. What did the Munsters have? Doesn’t matter — this game is straight fire. It plays super well, is reasonably priced, and looks amazing set off against the wood paneling of Fox Run.

This is the kinda spot that you can get lost for hours. In a good way. If there’s ever a search party looking for me, send them to Fox Run first. Even if they don’t find me, they’ll probably end up having a real good time.


Shouts to Donivan’s for keeping this machine in good order! I have a feeling it doesn’t get played a ton, but who cares? Works great!


The crown jewel of the town of Seymour. ’Nuff said.


Not only is it remarkably cheap to drink at Fox Run, but there was also birthday cake there during my visit. Your experience may vary. There was a birthday going on, after all.

Southside Soul

Southside Soul, Savers, and the temporary library relocation are singlehandedly making the old London Square Mall area cool again (all due respect to Festival Foods). Locally owned and operated, the folks at Southside make some pretty tasty traditional soul food and Chicago staples.

I had a hotdog that was covered in hot peppers and my Dad had a Polish sausage that was bigger than a baby’s arm. There were families having fun, folks on awkward Tinder dates, pretty much everything you’d expect. A great backdrop for some hot and heavy pin.

Southside not only has two pinball machines (Deadpool and Metallica) but also a giant basketball game. Seriously, the thing is like legit 10 feet tall.

As for the pins? They’re in various states. The Metallica barely works (one flipper is completely broken) and the Deadpool is still running code from when it first came out. What does that mean for non pinball nerds?

It means that these games are good, but not great. Still fun, and I put up a Grand Champ score in our short time there. If you go there and beat it, I’ll buy you a Chicago Dog. Seriously, find me.


This one pain’s me. Just a little TLC and these will be five for sure. Both games are fun, but they’re just in pretty rough shape.


Inside rules, outside you’re in the land of parking lots. That’s OK! I’ve done a lot of fun things in parking lots. Most legal.


Like maybe the best food on this list and you’re still paying Midwest prices – which absolutely rules.

Double Days

Double Days is just a hop, skip, and another hop (no jumping!) from Eau Claire Games and Arcade and it was for this reason that we even discovered the Black Knight Sword of Rage sitting in a dusty old corner.

My writing partner and I headed down during a break from some hot and heavy pins at EC arcade to grab a burger and some suds. While there we noticed their games: bags, gambling machines, pool tables, and yes, a beautiful Black Knight Sword of Rage.

Known as one of the hardest games of all time, Black Knight Sword of Rage is specifically designed to infuriate you. No seriously, that’s how Mark Ritchie, the designer intended it. Even the dialogue on the game is written to goad you on “Give me your money!” “Terrible!”

As someone who already wrestles with self-esteem issues, you’d think I’d steer clear — but no way, Jose! This game is toooooo good. I ended up playing this with like four or five 7-year-olds who were there while their parents cheered on Michigan State in March Madness.

While I can’t say who won the basketball game, I will say that Jaden (age 7) was extremely excited when I killed a demon by making an incredibly lucky slap save. Thanks Jaden, you the real MVP.


This is a great machine. We had to turn it on first, so don’t let that fool you, but once it’s on you’re in for the wildest ride of your freakin’ life!


I love the vibe in Double Days, but I will say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder’s eye loves giant neon signs, friendly bartenders, and bean bag tosses. Your mileage may vary.


You can get beer and a burger here for well under 15 bucks. Automatic five stars.

The Joynt

At this point we don’t have to sell people on The Joynt, right? Everyone knows it’s the best.

Still somehow priced like it’s 1986, The Joynt is the bar of the people and has been for a long long long time. Also, they have pinball, darts, and pool. Which pinball tables? Well, ONLY THE BEST IN THE WORLD.

The Joynt has the best three pin lineup in Eau Claire right now. There’s a Guardians of the Galaxy, a Mandalorian, and the king of them all: Godzilla. For those of y’all not in the know, Godzilla is THE pinball game of 2021. It literally swept the industry awards because of its amazing design, callouts, and music. I mean, it plays Blue Oyster Cult when you start a Godzilla multiball.

Frustratingly, it IS still rocking its original code (there have been something like five or six updates since then, which really unlock the game and make it sing). That said, if Donivan’s ever gets around to updating, it’s gonna be game over.


Best lineup by far, but the lack of code updates and some easy to fix problems keep this from being everything it could be.


It’s The Joynt. Like, every bartender knows your name, you see cool people, and it never feels overly crowded. Dig that lighting.


Cheap, cheap drinks. No food except for peanuts and wasabi peas, though there is that dank falafel place next door. Oh, and Burrito Xpress. The best.

The Mousetrap

For years, The Mousetrap’s kickball team was the bane of Volume One’s existence. They kicked our butts every year. That said, we always had respect for them and the way they played the game. It might not always be pretty, but by God did they get results. That’s also true for their pinball.

Nestled in the very back of their bar lies the dirtiest pinball machine I’ve ever seen. For real, like this thing could give you scurvy.

The good news? It plays awesome. It’ll give you like six multiballs in a row. I had a game that lasted 40 minutes and I STILL didn’t get on the high score list. It’s also one of the few places the mysterious ZIM isn’t leading the pack in the score department. Who is ZIM? WHO ARE YOU? (Pretend I’m doing a Batman voice right now.)


This one is hanging by a thread. It’s like, so so dirty and rundown, and yet it kinda works. You might have to elbow someone playing the Golden Tee, but when haven’t you wanted to do that anyway?


One of the last venues to have live music, a smoking porch, and giant pool tables. Plus most of the bartenders actually like folks! Can’t ask for more.



I’m gonna put myself out there and say I’ve never had the food at The Trap, but I’ve heard it’s real good. One time I had a hot beef there during a Packer game, but I’m pretty sure that was unofficial. Seemed like it, anyway.

Who is Zim?

On nearly every pinball machine in Eau Claire there is but one name that graces the top of the leaderboard: ZIM. Every place I went, everyone seemed to know ZIM or had at least heard of him.

I even had one young buck ask “Are YOU ZIM?” when he saw my score on Mando. I had to deny it, especially because ZIM’s lowest score on the machine was like five times my current score. Damn you, ZIM! Damn you!

So who is ZIM? I’ve been able to figure out a couple things.

  1. Definitely a man, he’s somewhere in his late 30s or early 40s.
  2. He went to Memorial according to a very burpy guy at Clancy’s.
  3. He’s memorable enough that people remember seeing him.

Do you have more info on ZIM? Are you ZIM? Come forth from the shadows, sir. Claim your throne.

44 North

It’s crazy. I moved away like 12 years ago and when I come back Altoona is all of a sudden a full-fledged city? When the heck did that happen? Altoona is booming, baby! 44 North is a cool little spot located right in the heart of that burgeoning business/commerce center. Their food list looked good, the drinks were flowing.

That said, my excitement was a little tempered when I went inside and saw a lonely Deadpool pinball machine turned off in the corner. I asked the server if there were any other machines and they sort of looked around for a second before sadly just pointing at the broken Deadpool. Bummer.

To be fair the rest of 44 North seems cool if you like arcade games. There’s a wall that’s dedicated to a new type of Space Invaders game where you blow up stuff with a giant laser gun.

There are a lot of ticket games. Meaning, games where you get tickets that you can trade in for prizes. I’m not big on prizes. I have my first-place Battle of the Books trophy from 1994 so I’m not really looking to clutter the shelf.


Zero stars (sadly).

Deadpool is a cool game, but only if it works and is turned on. Oh for two on that one.


There’s like trees and rivers and stuff and it seems like a good spot if you have kids and need to take them somewhere to burn off steam. I don’t have any (thank god).


Full menu, full drink list! It might be a little pricey for y’all, but c’mon. This is a night on the town. BE IN THE MOMENT. SPEND THAT EXTRA CASH. You can’t take it with you.

Reboot Social

If you took my brain while I slept and took out only the good ideas, it’d look a lot like what Reboot Social is going to be. Opening in July (in the old Children’s Museum of Eau Claire space, 220 S. Barstow St.), Reboot Social is yet another dope hang-out spot from Charlee Marquardt and his business partners (whose previous ventures include the revitalized Tokyo).

These folks have a background in production and light shows, so I’m stoked to see what they can do with three stories of space.

Their plan so far seems pretty nice. A full food menu, bar, tons of spots to hang out, board games, etc. This place is going to have four Duckpin bowling lanes, 30 vintage arcade games, 15 pinball machines, billiards, darts, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Sources say they’re running the full gamut for pinball machines, from newer Sterns like The Mandalorian to older classics like Medieval Madness and Attack From Mars. Those names may mean nothing to you now, BUT THEY WILL.

Medieval Madness is especially exciting. The words “mint condition” were thrown around pretty judiciously, and I don’t think we’ve had one locally available since The Joynt lost theirs a few years ago.

I’m not going to grade this one out yet. But please, Eau Claire support this business. We need it. Pinball needs it. Heck, I need it. I’m begging you. I’m not proud, but this is all I have. Well, this and nudgepinball.com which is a great segue.

Eau Claire, I gotta say the future looks bright.

So what is the state of pinball in EC? It’s good and getting better. With old standbys like The Joynt and Eau Claire Games and Arcade leading us out of the dark ages and new up-and-comers like Southside Soul and Reboot, well, we’re lucky to be here. This is a golden moment. Cherish it.

Grab your bag of quarters, pop on some tunes, and go for the flashing lights. It’s time to flip, Eau Claire.


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