Within a family-friendly joint on Saluda Avenue lie 16 ready-to-play pinball machines with titles old and new, from "The Twilight Zone" to "Stranger Things."
Despite a global pandemic, Frederick Richardson and his team opened Bang Back Pinball Lounge this summer: a pinball “barcade” located in Five Points.
For Richardson, a long-time restaurant consultant, general manager and current owner, “it all started with pinball.” As a child playing for credits at the YMCA, Richardson grew up to become a competitive pinball player, a career that has lasted for 28 years, and holds the title of two-time world pinball champion.
After college, Richardson found himself putting his initials at the top of his local arcade’s “Terminator 2” machine.
“And then I noticed somebody else had their initials up that were taking down my scores, and I’m like, 'Yeah, who’s this "P-E-M" guy?'” Richardson said.
"PEM" turned out to be Paul Madison, who would later become Richardson’s doubles partner and best friend. The two were best man at each other’s weddings.
Richardson, having lived in places from Minnesota to the Caribbean islands, ended up in Columbia for pinball.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that the world’s largest pinball parts supplier, online parts supplier, is actually located right here in Columbia," Richardson said.
Marco Specialties ships machines and parts all over the world, and owner Marc Mandeltort reached out to Richardson with the suggestion to start a pinball museum. However, Richardson wanted to take on a different business model and integrate his love for restaurants and food, and thus Bang Back was born.
Beka Foster, the assistant general manager, has been with Bang Back since its soft opening. She said Bang Back is nothing like the other bars in Columbia and has a more “fun, arcade style.” But pinball is not the only thing that sets this place apart from other Five Points hangouts. The Funky Fresh Food Truck, an indoor food truck selling more than the average bar food, features cuisines such as Asian, Hispanic and Mediterranean and Southern BBQ.
Mason Crowson, a regular of Bang Back and close friend of Foster, said the establishment “checks all the boxes.” The flashy lights and sound effects; flavorful, fun foods and friendly staff is what keeps him coming back.
Crowson shares a love for old school machines, such as "The Twilight Zone," and newer titles, such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "The Avengers."
“When you have a little bit of a relationship with those characters from childhood memories or whatever, it really helps invest yourself into these particular games,” Crowson said.
Bang Back has developed an audience mainly of those who remember the days of arcades; however, it has not yet reached a great audience with students. Richardson said he hopes that by word-of-mouth and social media, the younger crowd will see that this catch-all place has everything one could want from a downtown hangout.
“It’s a place to come in, chill, be with your friends and feel really safe,” Richardson said.
Since Bang Back has not known a world without COVID, Foster predicts things can only get better from here.
“We’re going to just only go up,” Foster said. "We’ve been successful so far, even during the pandemic, so I think after it — if it ever ends, we will flourish, honestly."
Natalie Hunt contributed to the reporting of this article.
Correction (Nov. 23, 2020): A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the owner of Marco Specialties is Marco Ramirez. He is the general manager. The owner is Marc Mandeltort.