A fistful of tokens

Your palms are sweating. Your eyes are focused with unnatural intensity on the little silver ball pinging back and forth across the board. You can feel that last India pale ale working its magic on your eye-hand-flipper coordination, but somehow you’ve defied the odds and beaten the high score. The ball hits a bumper and teeters on the edge of the outlane, threatening to end your game. You bump the table, sending the ball back toward your flipper, only to realize the buttons no longer work. A light on the board reads: “TILT!” and Gorgar, the table’s demonic mascot, bellows: “ME BEAT YOU!” Gorgar likes to rub it in, but you aren’t sweating it because you’ve got a cold glass of beer in the cup holder and a pocketful of jingling tokens. Just another night at Tilt Classic Arcade and Alehouse.

Located in South Burlington, just off Shelburne Road (next to Zen Gardens and near the Palace 9 cinema), Tilt operates in an unassuming little strip mall. Nothing indicates its existence to passersby, and it’s a little difficult to spot even if you’re looking for it. However, it’s worth the effort to find this little diamond in the rough, because it’s one hell of a fun time.

Once inside, the first thing you’ll notice is the enormous custom-made mural above the bar, filled with colorful video game and pinball characters, from a snowboarding Bowser and a 1UP symbol to Gorgar and a hideous representation of a centipede from… Centipede, all surrounding an exploding Tilt logo. The walls are lined with classic video game machines, 17 total. Here you’ll find gems from the golden age of the American arcade, such as Galaga, Mortal Kombat II, Classic Pacman, and Cruisin’ USA, a favorite of mine.

Upstairs, a sort of balcony half-floor open to the main room (and the perfect place to take a detailed look at the giant mural), you’ll find the pinball machines, all kept in one convenient location. There’s Gorgar, Whirlwind, Star Wars, X-files, Indiana Jones, The Addams Family, The Lord of the Rings, ACDC, Metallica, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and South Park. As far as I am aware, this is the single largest collection of pinball machines in Vermont.

You can get tokens, four for a dollar, from the dispensers or from behind the bar. One token is enough to play the arcade machines, and depending on your skill with the joystick that can amount to a very fair amount of playtime for your money. The pinball machines are a little more expensive. Most of them require two tokens for four balls, with the Metallica machine ranking as the most needy of the bunch at four tokens. Apologies to Mr. James Hetfield, but hearing your vocals through tinny pinball machine speakers just isn’t worth it. Gorgar, on the other hand, is a single token and is just the greatest.

Behind the bar, Tilt has a great selection of craft beers; Fiddlehead, Switchback, Queen City, Infinity, Zero Gravity, and Magic Hat, just to name a few. There’s also a modest selection of wines and cocktails if that’s more your style. The prices for the drinks isn’t bad, standard bar fare. On Mondays Fiddleheads are on tap for $4 a pop. Typically you’ll start at $5 for a glass of beer and work your way upwards for the wines and cocktails.

The food, on the other hand, is quite expensive. Chances are, a basic meal is going to cost you in excess of $12, and significantly more if you get an appetizer. You do get what you pay for, however. The food is absolutely delicious. Everything that’s served is organic, from the food to the condiments. The barbeque pulled pork sandwich I ordered, weighing in at $13, was absolutely to-die-for delicious. Very messy due to the South Carolina style barbeque sauce it was lathered with, but probably one of the highest quality pulled pork sandwiches I’ve eaten.

Don’t worry if you’re unfamiliar with the arcade/pinball scene. Tilt’s patrons aren’t the angry elitist nerds you might expect. Tilt provides a thoroughly enjoyable experience for the casual bar patron and the game enthusiast alike.  You’ll laugh (at all the geeky references), you’ll cry (when you plunk your final token into a particularly punishing machine), you’ll wonder why barcades aren’t a thing everywhere.

4 out of 5 stars, would Tilt again.