Pinball tournaments at John John's Game Room often involve both cash and ticket prizes.
Pinball tournaments at John John's Game Room often involve both cash and ticket prizes.
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Unlike many development projects on Capitol Hill, the recent remodeling of John John’s Game Room has found a large fan base. Rather than succumbing to corporations or condos, the space received a makeover in 2015, keeping both its purpose and name in place.

Originally opened in 2012 by Travis Echert and Brad Johnsen, the business benefitted from Seattle’s pinball subculture and its physical location. Olive Way neighbors Pie Bar and Speckled & Drake also opened within a year of John John’s, drawing seekers of eclectic decor and unassuming drinks to the area.

Since reopening on November 3rd under new ownership, John John’s has continued to deliver an extra dose of quirk to Capitol Hill. Proprietor Jeff Rogers has made it a point to offer updated entertainment while retaining its ambience.

“I've been going to John John's pretty much since its original inception,” stated Rogers. “I was actually originally opening up a bar over in Ballard. I was approached by the previous owners about taking over, and it made economical sense for both parties to shift gears.”

“The wonderful thing about it is there is a bit of a coalesce still involved in John John's,” Rogers explained. “The previous owners still work behind the bar and having them around is great. I've learned a lot from them, and having their faces still attached to it really instilled a lot confidence back in the customers when our remodel build-out started dragging feet over the summer.”

“I'm surrounded by some good people that helped steward the remodel along. Beyond that, they are great friends.”

With the largest changes done and the doors reopened for thepast few months, Rogers has now been able to focus on future goals for the space.

“We still have some cosmetic upgrades on the horizon,” stated Rogers. “We are about to get some swanky new seating around the bar. Beyond that, this summer I'd like to open the windows up on the top mezzanine... We are one of the few bars on the Hill that actually has a somewhat decent view of downtown.”

“Bring your Tinder dates, folks, and sip some cool refreshing Mad Dog 20/20,” laughed Rogers. “But with a project like that comes a myriad of issues relying on the cities’ approval—safety, noise restrictions, department of planning and development, etc. So really I'd chalk that up to TBD.”

He added that they will also be rotating the beers on tap “to offer a bit of variety” while preserving its easygoing atmosphere. The presence of vintage game art, zings of bright paint across its stairwell, and colorful bauble-lights dangling above create the vibe of a mini art museum. 

On top of learning opportunities and a spruced-up space, the switch in ownership allowed Rogers to share some of his own pride and joys. Having grown up playing and collecting pinball machines, he has been able to bring his personal games into John John’s for public use.

Most recently, Hardbody, “a campy workout 80s-themed game,” was added to the lineup.

“We will continue to rotate games out like we have done to keep the line up fresh,” said Rogers, whose own favorite game is The Addams Family.  Along with a couple other repair experts, he personally oversees and works on the machines’ maintenance requirements.

Having an all-in-one pinball proprietor, repairperson, and aficionado on hand has helped the barcade foster a homey, familial feel. When asked about his favorite part of John John’s, Rogers stated it’s “the customers, friends, and regulars.”

A lot of our customers are on first name basis that come in several times a week,” stated Rogers.  “A lot of them were friends before I took over. Also, big shout out to our neighbors Speckled and Drake. If you happen to come visit John John's, go next door too.  Lots of love for everyone over there.”

This community-minded spirit is a priority of Roger’s on both regular weekdays and large occasions alike. One of the biggest events he’s hosted so far took place on Thanksgiving, just three weeks after the Game Room’s reopening.

“We had a really awesome last-minute Thanksgiving party,” explained Rogers. “My roommate, Nick Taseris, is a chef here on the hill at Bar Cotto and we prepped a shit-load of food at his restaurant all out of my pocket. By the time the prep was done, the doors were ready to open. I didn't really know what to expect.”

“By the end of the night we had to have fed at least 150 of our regulars and not-so-regulars alike. I was so thrilled to see everyone show up so last minute and play sweet, sweet free pinball and chow on some free grub. We made a Mad Dog-infused cranberry sauce.  It was delicious. Seriously.”

“The gratefulness was mutual that night,” said Rogers. “I was very humbled.”

As a pinball league member himself, Rogers has enjoyed hosting tournaments at John John’s over the past three months.  During football season, said Rogers, “We gave away Seahawks home tickets for almost every home game we could. It’s a five-dollar entry to a tournament—all the money from the entries goes 100% to the prize pool to the tournament for the players, not to the bar. Catch is you could only win tickets once a season, so they got distributed out pretty widely.”

“It was more or less another ‘thank you’ to the customers for patronage.  As we know, Seahawks tickets aren’t everyone’s jam, so they can also sell them away for cash to someone else in the tournament. We'll continue to do that next year.”

As a regular at other pinball havens for the past few years—Shorty’s in Belltown and Add-A-Ball in Fremont, especially—Rogers knows the importance of building community within the subculture.

“The people involved with the pinball scene specifically, in general, make up such a loving family that is really hard to describe,” said Rogers. “We all came from such different walks of life and backgrounds, and our common denominator is a hobby that revolves around pinball.  We're a tribe.”

For more information on John John’s Game Room, visit https://www.facebook.com/John-Johns-Gameroom-249172385208979/?fref=ts.