[7.7] Pins Mechanical Company significantly improves on the social house model
I have this theory that the local media scene owes a lot to Abari.
Starting in June of 2015, the hype for the NoDa barcade was lengthy, involved, and dramatic. Multiple delays lead to months of speculation, several exclusive "first looks," and repeated media claims that any day now Abari would open.
Nine months later, it was finally birthed, and I can't be the only one who was disappointed. Several games weren't ready, and others broke down soon after opening. Filling your pockets with quarters for the arcade games felt more cumbersome than nostalgic. The few metal tables and chairs made the space unattractive. It was cramped and you got bored quickly.
But that's been the model of the local media-to-business hype machine since then, where the updates and PR pieces build a level of anticipation that can't be matched by the actual event.
Since then, social houses have expanded in Charlotte, from Queen Park Social in LoSo to El Thrifty [6.8] in Belmont to the upcoming Cavendish Social House in Plaza Midwood.
Recently, I asked on my Twitter if anyone could explain what the fuck a social house actually is. Responses ranged from the cynical ("It's a place for frat bros to reconvene after they've all graduated from some SEC school when they still don't have a personality.") to the lovably positive ("It's like Chuck E Cheese, but for grownups!")
What's more interesting is what they do for the media. In a town that supposedly is getting sick of breweries, social houses have a certain baked-in appeal. We're not just going to drink; we're going to drink and play pinball, or bowl, or skeeball. It's why Coliseum V because an instant hit on the digital circuit.
In a way, social houses don't have to be good. They just have to not be breweries.
And I'd argue that most of them aren't good. Yes, we need entertainment outside of drinking in renovated industrial spaces, but the answer isn't drinking in renovated industrial spaces and also paying $20 to wait an hour in line for a ping pong table.
That's where Pins Mechanical Company has its strongest advantage: it's better than it has to be.
The space is huge, full of multiple points of entertainment and interest. Firepits, duckpin bowling, ping pong, arcade games, pinball, skeeball, lounge chairs, high tops, tables, and consoles are all in abundance. This isn't like Abari or Lucky's where you can do everything there is to do in 20 minutes. It would take you multiple visits to fully experience all Pins Mech has to offer.
The most transformative thing about the space is that about half of the games are free.
Cost at a social house is a problem. Most have to overprice their drinks to make up for the cost of operating the games. The games, of course, cost money as well. But by making about half of their arcade games free (the consoles and skeeball are free as well), Pins Mech instantly becomes the best value of any social house in Charlotte.
I played duckpin bowling, skeeball, bought four beers, and got my ass kicked in Mortal Combat all for $40. Lines were brief. I never had to wait more than five or so minutes to get access to games.
And it just looks better too. Couches, cushions, neon signs with pop art, and firepits strike a comfortable balance between the admirably tacky El Thrifty and the basement dweller dankness of Abari.
There's a certain church camp youth pastor aesthetic that you won't be able to shake, a basic wholesomeness that'll keep you from fully loving this spot if you're young, hot, and enjoy meeting singles. But that's part of why it's so good for Charlotte, a city that continually forgets that teens need somewhere to go to have fun too ( although Pins Mech is 21+ only after 8 PM).
It's a winning concept that gets so much right about the social house structure, while reimagining it all at once.