Free Gold Watch Clears Pinball Hurdles, Throws Party To Celebrate

It's official: Matt Henri's Free Gold Watch, the t-shirt shop and pinball arcade at 1737 Waller, has earned its "mechanical amusement device" permit from the city of San Francisco.

What does this mean, you ask? It means that the arcade, which opened as a t-shirt print shop five years ago and started offering pinball machines on the side about three years ago, can officially resume operation with functional, proudly displayed pinball machines.

This comes as the city has relaxed regulations about "arcade" licensing and limits on game venues.

Free Gold Watch began its navigation of the city permitting process earlier this year in response to a neighbor complaints that the establishment was violating its use permit (retail) to bypass its existence as an amusement hall. To wit, the business had more than 10 pinball machines, then the city's technical arcade threshold.

Since late last winter, Free Gold Watch was operating its pinball machines strictly under wraps, with "for sale" signs on each one to bypass the arcade-status technicality.

Now, after extensive help from London Breed's legislative aide Conor Johnston, Henri said Free Gold Watch is back in business as a fully-fledged, permitted arcade, with 39 pinball machines, more than it's ever had before.

Johnston helped push through the new, more flexible limits on arcades. In an email announcing the party for Free Gold Watch, he said that "the old, unwieldy restrictions on pinball and arcade ... are no more."

Johnston "really took [Free Gold Watch] under his wing to help us out the whole way," Henri said yesterday by phone. "He was already a fan, it was something he already loved, and he really championed it all the way through."

Mayor Ed Lee signed off on the change in arcade law earlier this month, Henri said, and now Free Gold Watch is throwing a party to celebrate.

On Wednesday, December 10th, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, FGW will be throwing an open shindig (with hot dogs) to celebrate its new, legal status. Everyone is welcome, and the party is scheduled to coincide with an official IFPA tournament, which means your points count internationally.

For more on neighborhood pinballing, check out our guide to the local pinball machines near you

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