We’re very excited for Tilt Arcade to open in South Burlington. The barcade will have local beer and food alongside retro arcade cabinets. We recently chatted with Joshua Nickerson, one of the business’s founders:
Geek Mountain State: Describe for me the origins of the Tilt Arcade and Ale House. How did you guys come up with the idea to put together such a place?
Joshua Nickerson: I first got the idea for Tilt after visiting a similar place in Portland OR called Ground Kontrol. It is a place with games similar to what we will feature but a very limited bar menu and drinks served in plastic cups. However, it does a booming business and is always filled with folks from roughly my demographic. This was a few years ago and I thought that the Burlington area would be perfect for something like this as there are a lot of young people around here who grew up on arcades but there aren’t really any around anymore that are geared more towards adults. However, I thought that it would be fun to pair the arcade concept with a more expansive bar and a wider selection of good food. I am also a bit of a foodie and the local food movement in Vermont is one of the things I love about living here. I registered the Tilt name with the state a couple of years back but then things were in limbo until I could find someone with the experience and drive to really make the place come to life. I am a neuroradiologist with a full time job at Fletcher Allen and no experience running a business. Things really got going when I met Thom Dodge, the Managing Partner at Tilt. His wife was working in radiology at the time and we met at a summer department event. He had just left the Hinesburg Public House and was interested in something new. We met over lunch and were on the same page from the very beginning about what we wanted to build. Like myself, he had also grown up love arcade games (Robotron 2084 was his first game priority!) and he immediately saw the potential of this kind of business in our area.
GMS: How have you gone about getting the various games for this? Was there any criteria for selecting games?
JN: We have sourced games from as far as the Los Angeles area and the Midwest, although the bulk of them have come from a company down in the New Haven, CT area. A few were also purchased from Pinball Wizard down in Pelham NH. The criteria for game selection were pretty simple- were they games we loved playing?! Also, to be fair, price did come in at times. I would love to line the wall with Medieval Madness, Cactus Canyon, Monster Bash, etc… but since those games can fetch up to 15K each, it will be a building process. We have a mix of new and old machines with regard to pinball, and as you have seen on the FB page some are pretty desirable and collectible.
GMS: Are there any games that you’d like to add, but haven’t had a chance to do so?
JN: Definitely! I can think of many arcade and pinball games I would like to add at some point. My personal favorite pinball machine is a rather rare one called Banzai Run that I have not been able to find for a reasonable price yet. A few arcade games like Spy Hunter, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon, and more spring to mind. But the games we open with (a list I am quite happy with) will not be the end of our inventory. If things go well we will continue to add titles as quickly as we are able.
GMS: What is it about Pinball and cabinet games that appeals the most to you? Q: Are you planning on rotating games in and out to keep a fresh lineup?
JN: Pinball appeals to me as it is “real.” We all play computer games and so forth, have iPads, etc. But the physics of a pinball and flippers is something that can’t really be simulated despite some pretty good efforts out there. Pinball can be very casual or very serious if one wants to put in the time to learn all of the goals and shots of each table, many of which can have pretty complicated rule sets if you do a little research. Cabinet games appeal to me largely for the nostalgia. And on some level the simplicity. I like to play computer games at home and I have a Wii and a PS3. Maybe I am getting old, but some of the games for these systems almost require an instructional course just to play! There is something about the simplicity of standing up at a cabinet game like Altered Beast with only three buttons to worry about, drink in hand, and just having fun. We do plan to rotate things in and out of the lineup eventually, and will also have “backup” games in case there are out of order games that have to be pulled off the floor. But at least for opening everything we have will likely be out there to play.
GMS: What’s the response been like so far?
JN: The response has been fantastic and very exciting. When I wear my Tilt shirt out these days I have strangers come up and tell me how excited they are for us to open. The buzz that has been generated thanks to websites like yours and support at Seven Days has been great and I think has confirmed that the Burlington area has been waiting for a place like this for a while, whether folks knew it or not. My favorite responses are those we see after announcing a game when one person shares the link with a friend and challenges them to a game. It exemplifies what I hope we will be all about- getting together with friends and enjoying a pastime that maybe you both grew up with and have great memories around.
GMS: Are there other places like Tilt around the country?
JN: There are, although each is a little different. Both Thom and I have been to several. Some, like Pinballz in Austin TX or the Seattle Pinball Museum in WA are primarily devoted to the games. Others like Ground Kontrol in Portland OR or Emporium in Chicago IL are games and drinks and maybe a little bit of food. I have not been to place yet though that has had both the games, a great full bar and a really good menu of house made food (not microwave entrees…). I think we are taking the concept to the next level with Tilt. At least I hope so!
GMS: What’s the build / acquisition process been like thus far? Where do you find all of these games?
JN: The build had been an education for me for sure, although I think it has largely been what Thom expected. He built the Hinesburg Public House from the ground, and so knew what challenges we would face far better than I. Regulations regarding public buildings are extensive and all have to be managed very carefully. Every little step is dependent on the ones preceding, so a delay always has a chain effect. That being said the folks we have been working with have all been great and it is gratifying to be able to hire local craftspeople to build something we can all be proud of when it is done.
I have found most of the games by wandering around the internet looking for deals. Ebay is good. Mr. Pinball Classifieds is helpful as well. There are lots of games for sale out there and often finding one leads you to a source for a whole lot more.
GMS: Are you planning special events or tournaments at all?
JN: We will definitely be hosting tournaments- we have connected with the VT Pinball Association and they have connected us with the New England Pinball Association. I think there will be a regular schedule of these sorts of events. We will certainly be open to additional events as folks present opportunities. Both Thom and I are firm believers in supporting the local community and economy and hope we will be able to partner with other businesses, organizations, and collectives as soon as possible.
The Tilt Arcade and Ale House is opening soon, if all goes well.