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San Francisco May Be Home to a Pinball-Affiliated Dispensary


Local arcade-slash-print shop Free Gold Watch reportedly has a new type of “high score” in mind.


Video games and cannabis have long enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship.

Though the stereotype of the lazy stoner, coated in chip crumbs, barely able to muster the strength to toggle a joystick, is one more fictional than factual, game developers do owe a hell of a lot to their unofficial green partner. Whether it’s for stamina, relaxation, a more immersive experience, or a fresh spin on an old favorite, getting high and firing up a video game is regarded as a tried and true tradition.

All facets of the industry, from gamemakers to soda brands, have profited off this “open secret” with gleeful shameless. Be it Mountain Dew the color of Chernobyl or a character named Banjo-Kazooie (not to mention at least three Super Nintendo titles devoted solely to Nickelodeon’s “Ren and Stimpy”), the medium of gaming has been happily catering to so-called “potheads” for the duration of its existence.

For the past five years, Free Gold Watch has likely catered to their fare share of cannabis fans as well.

Located across the street from Golden Gate Park, the operation is actually a custom-printing business that doubles as a pinball arcade. Hosting machines owned by a number of operators (an unusual arrangement), the selection at Free Gold Watch includes classics like 1988’s “Bonzai Run” and a limited-edition version of “Elvira’s House of Horrors.”

Prior to COVID-19, admission to the shop was free. All it costs to play these machines is some quarters and a bit of free time  (when possible, bringing a friend to be impressed by your incredible skill is also advised). While details on Free Gold Watch’s estimated reopening date remain in flux, at least one local outlet has learned that the beloved pinball palace may soon be getting into a new kind of game: cannabis.

As reported by Hoodline on June 5, the Free Gold Watch team is now hoping to open a dispensary near the shop’s Upper Haight site.

Permit applications obtained by the outlet reveal plans to have a combination dispensary and consumption lounge at 768 Stanyan St. Located “right around the corner” from Free Gold Watch’s current home, the business is tentatively named FGW Haight.

The arcade crew will now go before the San Francisco Planning Commission to make its case for receiving the second — and, as Hoodline explains, likely final — retail dispensary permit to be issued for the Haight area. The first, Berner’s on Haight, opened late last year and is run by the titular Bay Area rapper who also oversees operations for his brand, Cookies.

Should Free Gold Watch be successful in their efforts, they’ll be taking over what is presently a residential garage. Any who have visited the beloved established know that Free Gold Watch itself started life as a garage. While the team behind the business did not offer comment or provide detail as to whether pinball machines would factor into their plans for FGW Haight, it’s easy to see how the spot might one day be seen as a stoner’s nirvana.

Clearly the concept of mixing substances and games has already proven itself successful. While Free Gold Watch is an all-ages establishment, plenty of bars now exist that advertise themselves as a hybrid of an arcade and a drinking hole. From corporate goliaths like Dave & Busters to local San Francisco spots like the Detour (nee Brewcade) and Emporium, the proof of concept when it comes to whether people like ingesting mind-altering substances and then playing games is firmly established.

Yes, a liquor license can be hard to obtain, but the biggest issue when it comes to hypothesizing a place like FGW Haight is the vast gap between innovation and regulation. Exhibiting a “building the plane as we’re flying it” mentality, the inability of local and state officials to adapt to ideas like a place where someone could both smoke weed and play pinball is massive.

There are clearly no rules that exist specifically to dictate whether such a place can exist. Will local officials allow themselves to be daunted by this unwritten page or take advantage of the opportunity to create the policies they want to see?

Hopefully it’s the latter, because a bong rip and a round of “Big Lebowski” pinball sounds like some kind of heaven.

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