​After decades of prohibition, it's legal to play pinball in a Montreal bar again

After two years of petitioning the city, the bylaw banning pinball machines from bars has been updated.

After 2 years of lobbying, owner of 'barcade' convinces city to drop arcane bylaw

The bar, located at 3908 St Laurent Blvd., takes its name from a Montreal company: North Star Coin Machine Company. (Submitted by Yannick Grandmont)

After six decades of prohibition, it is legal once again to play pinball in a Montreal bar.

Since it opened in 2015, North Star — a pinball-themed bar on St-Laurent Boulevard — has been operating in a legal grey zone.

The bar features several vintage pinball machines, hosts pinball leagues and projects a four-hour montage of pinball scenes from movies on a wall.

As such it openly flouted bylaw 5156, passed in 1977, which banned "amusement machines" in places where alcohol is served.

Adam Kiesler is the co-owner of North Star bar on St-Laurent Boulevard. (Sarah King-Abadi/CBC)

"Thankfully the law was not enforced while we were open," North Star's co-owner, Adam Kiesler, told CBC's Homerun earlier this week. "Technically we could have been shut down at any time."

From gangsters to hipsters, pinball popular again

Kiesler waged a two-year campaign to get the city to overturn the bylaw.

He initially lobbied, in vain, for a meeting with Mayor Denis Coderre. Eventually, though, he found an ally in Project Montéal's Plateau-Mont-Royal councillor, Christine Gosselin, who managed to get the change passed last month. 

"The wheels of bureaucracy turn slowly," said Kiesler.

Montreal's anti-pinball bylaw traces its origins to 1955, when Mayor Jean Drapeau banned the machines in public places. They were associated with slot machines and considered a form of gambling, believed to be controlled by organized crime.

In 1977, Drapeau relaxed the measure, but insisted pinball machines only be allowed in arcades, not bars.

Now with the law finally changed, Kiesler can devote his attention to his bar-come-pinball mecca. The bar takes its name from a Montreal company, North Star Coin Machine Company, which made pinball machines in Montreal in the early 1950s.

North Star serves up drinks, food and lots of pinball machines for arcade nostalgia. (Submitted by Yannick Grandmont)

"I was sort of raised on pinball," he said. "I have upwards of 30-something pinball machines."

While there is at least one company still making machines today, Kiesler says he prefers the nostalgia of the old games he remembers from his childhood.

"The pinball that I'm really most attracted to is the vintage games from the 70s and 80s."

With files from CBC Homerun