When Ernest “Ernie” Rains began his career in the Air Force in 1976, it never occurred to him that one day he’d own a pinball arcade in downtown Opelika, Alabama. As a matter of fact, Rock ‘N Roll Pinball began with the purchase of a 1987 Corvette convertible in 2016. However, Ernie quickly began to reconsider the “joy factor” of his purchase. Specifically, that with a sideswipe or a fender-bender, it would be ruined. So, Ernie began to think about what was next. He asked himself the relatable question: “What do you want to accomplish—what do you want to have out life—before you say goodbye?”
He then remembered that in the Air Force people owned pinball machines and transported them from place to place. “It was common in the 80s for people to have their own pinball machines,” he explains. So, Ernie began to look around for his own. Eventually, he decided on his first machine, still found in the arcade today: The Beatles machine. Markedly, it was the same price as the Corvette, but with a more resilient “joy factor” that couldn’t be ruined.
The Journey of Rock N’ Roll Pinball Begins
So, Ernie began to assemble the team that would grow his one pinball machine into the successful arcade venture he owns today. Firstly, he met Kenny Biers. His experience with the tourism industry in Miami introduced Ernie to the world of conventions, conferences, and tournaments. Then, Kenny invited him to the home of Stephen and Emily Gentry for a pinball tournament. Stephen knew who to buy from, what to look for, and how to get the good deal. This was evident in the 25 pinball machines in the Gentry’s home. “They were occupying spare bedrooms, dining rooms, garage, hallways… everywhere where you could possibly put a pinball machine, they have one,” Ernie said, laughing. Next, it was that night he met Scott Mount, elbows deep in a pinball machine repairing some bumpers.
With their combined content knowledge, Ernie knew he had the beginnings of a team to start his arcade. Importantly, a few weeks later, he was introduced to the “fourth musketeer”, Brian Briggs, the EM (electro-mechanic) guy. Where Scott could fix the newer machines with computer boards, Brian could fix the solid-state vintage machines. He was the literal missing piece, and, as Ernie describes him, “the muscle behind a lot of what you’ll see in [the arcade].” Next, Brian brought his daughter Amy Briggs in, Rock N’ Roll Pinball’s general manager. With Amy came her fiancée Patrick Davis and his experience in the restaurant business.
Finally, with a team assembled, Ernie began scouting a location. What began as an idea for an Auburn venue eventually became a search for a place in Opelika. It’s the place “where the Auburn people go to have a good time,” as Brian told him. After some setbacks with axe-throwers and leasing clauses, Ernie eventually settled on the current location on 815 South Railroad Avenue. Following COVID setbacks and building renovations, what used to be a toy store was quickly transformed into Rock N’ Roll Pinball arcade!
The Pinball Arcade
At Rock N’ Roll Pinball, you’ll find 29 pinball machines, both vintage and modern, that are set to ‘free play’. Basically, you pay a set fee—either $8 for the hour or $15 to pay until close—and you’re good to go! No quarters needed! Your wristband allows you to leave and come back. As for the machines themselves, a multitude of bands and classic movies represented, from Aerosmith—Ernie’s personal favorite!— AC/DC, and Metallica to Jurassic Park, Star Trek, Iron Man, and Deadpool. “There’s a depth of play to modern pinball machines,” Ernie told me, explaining that each machine has a range of missions. Since the inception of “multiball”, achieving these missions raises the difficulty. Hone your skills and compete with fellow arcade goers for a spot on their weekly high scores list. Additionally, if you want to take your pinball game a step further, ask about leagues!
Moreover, you won’t find just pinball machines at the arcade. Paying your fee gets you access to their Golden Tee machine and two multi-cade video games with over 500 games. Make sure to check out the artwork done by some of Ernie’s very own staff! You’ll also find 9 large screen TVs and a TV lounge in addition to a bar serving sodas, snacks, and craft and domestic beers on tap. If you’re a fan of Opelika’s own Red Clay Brewery, try one of Rock n’ Rock Pinball’s staff-created “beertails”. For example, “The Ernie”, which features a blend of the Mackenzie Scotch Ale and Coca-Cola.
The Jailhouse Music Hall
The latest addition to the arcade is the Jailhouse Music Hall. It features live music every Saturday night from local bands and musicians and trivia every Thursday night. They also host other events like the Murder Mystery night! So, follow their Facebook page or check their website for other upcoming events! When the music’s not playing, it still makes for a great party lounge. Upgrade to a $15 free-play wristband to gain access! Or opt for a $5 wristband for access to just the music hall and their back bar. Rock N’ Rock Pinball also welcomes parties and groups! If interested, contact Amy Briggs at email@example.com to inquire about reserving up to half the arcade and party lounge during regular hours.
Although the snack bar serves tasty items like cotton candy, porkrinds, popcorns, chips, and candy, you may work up a bigger appetite trying to beat Ernie’s score on the Aerosmith machine. If that happens, simply scan the QR codes posted around the arcade for quick access to local eateries through FetchMe. With your wristband, you can take a break from your Star Trek adventures and dine outside in the front or back patio seating with tacos, pho, wings, pad thai, chicken sandwiches, and much more ! There’s also plenty of seating inside if don’t want to miss your game! Have FetchMe deliver your favorites—from ChickChickPorkPork to Agave Loco to Veggies To Go— right to the arcade and keep racking up that high score!
Don’t Miss Out on this Unique Rock N’ Roll Experience
“From watching people play experience pinball for the first time or come back to it, you need to come and try it to really understand it,” says Ernie. So, come meet Ernie and his creative staff! Discover your favorite machine and support a local business not every town gets the opportunity to claim!